'Ignite passion' and 'prime the pipeline' to manage nursing shortage, per 3 hospital CNOs

Talking about the nursing shortage isn't going to solve the problem, three chief nursing officers told Becker's. Instead, creating programs that spark an interest in nursing in students, training nurse aides who can move up the nursing ladder and empowering current team members to use their networks to attract new nurses are keys to priming the pipeline.

"You have to start to ignite passion somewhere," Lori Feltner, MSN, RN, a longtime nursing executive at HCA Healthcare and newly appointed CNO at Parkridge East Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., told Becker's. "We need to bridge into the high schools and start there. That's the age to get people really interested in not only nursing but healthcare in general."

Ms. Feltner said one of her priorities in the coming year is to light a fire under high school students who are still trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up. Her vision is to get them thinking about a career in healthcare. For those who do show interest, she wants to give them jobs in the hospital while they go to nursing school and offer tuition reimbursement to "prime the pipeline" of future nurses. 

Tina Santos, MSN, new assistant vice president at Orlando (Fla.) Health and CNO at Orlando Regional Medical Center, said she is always focused on ways to fill the nursing pipeline.

With more than 12 years in nursing leadership, Ms. Santos said a healthcare system's reputation is very important when it comes to attracting nursing school graduates. 

"Nurses want to work in hospitals that are focused on quality and safety," she said. 

Ms. Santos promotes Orlando Health's solid foundation as she hosts regularly scheduled meet-and-greet events with colleges and universities to attract the attention of potential new talent. 

Additionally, comprehensive nurse residency programs offer new and current nurses the opportunity to extend their own career paths while providing "a path for growth and development" at Orlando Health, she said.

She said when nurses are happy where they are working, "they are the best recruiters we have. They can reach out and leverage their networks." She added her healthcare system incentivizes current nurses to talk to people they know and connect with them on social media, especially LinkedIn. "We also offer very generous referral bonuses to our team members who help to recruit other health professionals who fit into our culture," she said.

Marie Mulligan, PhD, BSN, is the newly appointed chief nursing officer at Northwell Health's Huntington (N.Y.) Hospital. By no means, however, is she new to nursing leadership; she held many executive leadership roles, including vice president for nursing services and chief nursing officer at Northwell's Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y., for close to three decades.

While at Mather, she lobbied at the state level to create a program to "prime the pipeline" with ancillary support staff, including nursing aides, who not only offer extra hands to busy nurses but also are positioned to be trained and become the next generation of bedside nurses. 

After receiving New York state approval for the nursing assistant certification program, Mather Hospital funded and advertised the program and received 300 applicants.

Dr. Mulligan said her Certified Nursing Assistant program solves two problems. "Nurses need help as they provide patient care. But I couldn't fill those nursing aide vacancies after many recruitment attempts. People are working two and three jobs and they can't afford to take time off or pay for programs to train them to be nursing aides," she said. 

The training program, which she hopes to bring to Huntington in the near future, offers interested and qualified applicants an entry-level job in the hospital and tuition reimbursement to support them through a healthcare-based training program, she said. "We give people a chance to work in a healthcare environment, provide health benefits and work to support them through training and the state certification process." 

Graduates of this program are required to work at the hospital for two years after earning their certification. From there, Dr. Mulligan said, many will likely seek to continue their education through the health system's tuition reimbursement program. This program, she added, "will keep people working in healthcare and create a nursing pipeline for the future."


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