How 4 hospitals retain nurses, cut turnover costs through academic financial assistance

Amid the pandemic and an unprecedented nursing shortage, hospital leaders nationwide are looking for innovative ways to recruit and retain nurses and other healthcare staff. While some hospitals have hiked signing bonuses and salaries, others are taking a different approach, such as student loan repayment and tuition reimbursement.

According to NerdWallet, those with an associate nursing degree have on average $19,928 of debt; those with a Bachelor of Science in nursing have on average $23,711 of debt; and those with a Master of Science in nursing have on average $47,321 of debt.

At least 45 hospitals across the U.S. provide some form of tuition reimbursement for staff, according to

Becker's compiled four programs and talked with two leaders about what they're doing to help nurses with student loans and tuition payments, as well as how those nurses help them in return.

Four hospital programs:

This fall, New Lenox, Ill.-based Silver Cross Hospital and Romeoville, Ill.-based Lewis University College of Nursing and Health Sciences partnered to provide student loan repayment support. The repayment is up to $27,000 for Lewis nursing graduates who pursue a nursing career at Silver Cross after graduation. Payments over four years will be made directly to students to repay loans. 

To qualify for the program, nurses must complete their BSN degree at Lewis University; pass the national licensure exam; commit to a nursing career at Silver Cross for at least four years; and participate in Silver Cross' Student Nurse Assistant Program, complete a clinical rotation at the hospital or work in a paid summer employment opportunity at Silver Cross.

In Mississippi, Memorial Hospital at Gulfport is offering registered nurses working in long-term care facilities student loan repayments of up to $20,000 for two-year contracts. The incentive joins other financial benefits such as tuition reimbursement, pay incentives, increased hourly rates and seasonal pay. 

"As the preeminent healthcare system for the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Memorial realizes that in order to recruit, retain and develop top talent, our health system must offer a competitive total rewards package in order to maintain our standing as the best in the region," Myron McCoo, vice president of human resources at Memorial, said in a statement to the Sun Herald.  

"After speaking with nurses who have been working the bedside during the pandemic, we realized that they aren't just interested in the salary," Mr. McCoo told the Herald. "Many of our nurses have student loans, so we are introducing a new benefit for those RNs working the bedside and in long-term care."

On the other side of the nation, Seattle Children's Hospital has tripled its investment in its tuition assistance program for fiscal year 2022, from $225,000 to $1 million, Wendy Price, the hospital's director of workforce development and planning, told Becker's. 

Tuition assistance recipients have a 7 percent higher retention rate, at an estimated savings of $420,000 over five years, Ms. Price said. By tripling the number of recipients, cost savings will also rise. Recipients of the program also advance to new jobs within Seattle Children's at a 15 percent higher rate than its general workforce, supporting career advancement and retention, Ms. Price explained. 

Nursing education is a priority at Seattle Children's, with 48 percent of recipients for the fiscal year 2022 pursuing nursing degrees. Sixty-five percent of recipients are using it to pursue a new job or career at Seattle Children's, and 31 percent of fiscal year 2022 recipients are from underrepresented backgrounds as defined by the National Institutes of Health.

The organization has also invested $100,000 in the Liz Thomas Legacy Scholarship, a $5,000 scholarship for underrepresented nursing students in the community.

West Virginia University Medicine in Morgantown offers three programs to help employees with education payments: employee tuition reimbursement, dependent tuition reimbursement and most recently, student loan repayment.

Through the employee tuition reimbursement program, full-time employees with one or more years of service can receive up to $3,000 of tuition reimbursement at any school of their choice, said Leeann Kaminsky, chief human resources officer. Those with five years of service or more can receive up to 100 percent tuition reimbursement.

The hospital also provides funds for employees' children. Dependents of employees with three years of service or more can receive up to 100 percent of tuition if they attend West Virginia University. If they attend another university, they can receive reimbursement at a lower rate.

Both of these programs have been around since 2019.

The student loan repayment program started just this summer and provides full-time staff after 90 days of employment $100 per month for loans. For nurses, there is an enhanced student loan assistance benefit that pays off $450 per month of student loans. In return, they provide a two-year commitment to the hospital.

There is about a 94 percent retention rate of those participating in these programs, Ms. Kaminsky said.

In total, all three programs cost the hospital about $3.2 million annually, but save the hospital an estimated $3.8 million annually in turnover costs, Ms. Kaminsky said.

"We want to be an employer of choice. We want people to come to work with us and stay for a really long time," Ms. Kaminsky said. "And so that's why we're trying to have an array of benefits and programs to offer employees from the time that they enter into the organizations like the student loan system, so if you're coming right out of college, we can help you pay off your debt sooner. 

"If you want to go back to school and further your education, we can help you support that. And then, not only that, as you start a family and you have children and you have dependents that want to go to school, we can help support that as well. It's a full life cycle of benefits that we can offer our employees at different stages of their life."

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars