Nurse license wait times complicating staffing shortages

Hospitals and health systems across the U.S. are making efforts to quickly boost staffing to fill workforce gaps. But amid shortages, nurses are waiting months for licenses from states so they can begin treating patients, NPR reports.

The media organization examined the issue via an analysis of licensing records from 32 states. Data for the analysis was based on nursing board records for more than 226,000 registered nurses and licensed practical nurses issued new, permanent licenses last year. Read more about the methodology here.

Overall, 1 in 10 nurses who received new licenses from nursing boards in 2021 waited six months or longer, researchers found. More than one-third of the nurses waited at least three months.

"[Nurses are] emotionally exhausted. They're physically exhausted. We add to that the frustration of not being able to get your license," Betsy Snook, BSN, RN, who is CEO of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, told NPR. "Your mother, your father, your grandmother, your grandfather are not going to get the level of care that they should have if staffing were appropriate."

And the issue was spread across states. Among the states analyzed, NPR found that California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and others had average processing times of nearly four months for certain licenses.

The media organization said some states' wait times may be an underestimate if the state nursing board does not begin tracking the time until an application is deemed complete. 

The NPR analysis comes as hospitals are facing staffing shortages and rising labor costs as they vie for talent. It's a concern the American Hospital Association has urged Congress to address, calling workforce challenges facing hospitals a national emergency.

Part of the staffing shortages come from nurses and other healthcare professionals who have quit their jobs for various reasons. A report from McKinsey found 32 percent of registered nurses surveyed in November 2021 indicated they may leave their current role, up from 22 percent in February 2021.

Although departures are contributing to staffing shortages, backlogged license applications, which may stem from misplaced files, communication issues between states and other factors, can exacerbate the issue, according to NPR.

The media organization reports that some states issue temporary licenses at an additional cost so nurses can begin working while their permanent license application is processed, but many nurses do not try to get a temporary license. Meanwhile, the Nurse Licensure Compact allows more flexibility for nurses to practice in states that are part of the compact. Not all states take part in the agreement, however.  

Read the full report here

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