Dealing with the nursing shortage: How UW Health is working to revive the nationwide problem

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be a nationwide deficit of one million nurses by 2022.

MADISON, Wis. — There is a nationwide shortage of nurses and its impacts are being felt right here in Madison hospitals.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the nursing workforce is expected to grow nearly 15% in the next six years, but even that isn’t enough to keep up with the increasing demand for nurses.

The turnover rate nationwide is 14%. In Madison, it’s close to 13%.

At UW Health, there are currently 3,152 nurses, and staff members are constantly working to recruit more.

Megan Schultz was part of the residency program at UW Health several years ago.

She said she was called to the career.

“I lost my father and my brother to accidental purposes of death,” Schultz said. “This really changed my life and promoted me to become enthusiastic about learning and the medical side of things has always intrigued me.”

Schultz said she has seen the impacts of the nursing shortage firsthand. UW Health’s residency program manager Kim McPhee deals with it regularly.

“We’ve been talking about the nursing shortage for the last decade,” McPhee said.

McPhee contributes the nursing shortage to a number of factors, including the expanding healthcare system and the increase in demand for nurses to tend to sicker patients.

“Ambulatory care is providing care to patients in the community. So going to their doctors offices, trying to get preventative care done in that arena, trying to prevent the need to admit patients to the hospital. So, eventually, a lot of patients require hospital care, and so when they come into the hospital, they’re sicker than they’ve ever been before,” McPhee said.

Right now there are not enough nurses to help care for the sick patients.

About 20 years ago, before residency programs were in place, McPhee said, “Up to 60% of new graduate nurses left the profession in the first year.”

Those numbers are being felt today.

On top of that, the Health Resources and Services Administration says more than one million nurses will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years.

“It’s difficult because we also have faculty shortages at the school of nursing around the country,” McPhee said

Not enough nurses coming in means the ones who are there are overworked.

“People are even offered extra shifts all the time when they’re off,” Schultz said. She added, “Nurses tend to be nurses at home too. So it’s even harder because you never really stop being in charge of or caring for other peoples, much less ourselves as nurses.”

UW Health has been a leader in residency programs nationwide to help address this issue.

What was once a 60% turnover of first year nurses is now a 97% retention rate.

They bring in about 175 new graduate nurses every year.

“It’s just the dedicated resources and attention,” McPhee said. “There’s ongoing education for them. There are monthly classes where they’re surrounded by other people who are going through the same situation they are. That validation of feeling like I’m not alone makes a huge impact on your ability to adjust to this new complex role of being a nurse.”

UW Health’s residency program has helped add 572 nurses and 302 nursing assistants and health unit coordinators in the last year.

It’s a nationally accredited 12-month program and one of just 29 sites in the country with a Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education-accredited nurse residency program, according to UW Health media specialists.

Fortunately, Madison isn’t hit by the nursing shortage as hard as other places in the country.

But Schultz knows it’s still a problem. She’s hopeful that in the coming years, the nursing field will make a comeback and new residency programs will help bring “a lot of energetic, enthusiastic, dedicated, smart nurses come into the field because they feel compelled to help people.”