Health facilities across the country have desperately sought solutions to the national nursing shortage. Some have turned to tantalizing perks, but this hospital takes a more hands-on approach.
The University of Michigan Health-West Hospital and Grand Rapids Community College recently announced that they will pay full tuition for students enrolled in the community college nursing program, in exchange for guaranteeing that ‘they will work in the hospital for two years after graduation.
“We’ve been short of 100 nurses throughout the pandemic and it was chaos,” said University of Michigan Health-West CEO Peter Hahn. “We really wanted to find this solution that would give us a stable pipeline of nurses coming into the system, [while also] diversifying our nursing staff.
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Due to the pressure of the pandemic, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected 500,000 senior nurses to retire throughout 2022, creating a shortage of 1.1 million nurses — a mass exodus accelerated by the pandemic and compounded by the growing popularity of the travel nursing profession, which is driving many nurses away from the bedside in search of more flexibility and more money, according to Hahn.
“We’ve really tried to do our best to invest in our staff to make sure the salary is very competitive – we’ve made retention bonuses and made sure they feel heard and their voice counts” , he said. “But the past few years have been difficult and I think this scholarship program will really help us bring high quality, well-educated nurses into our system.”
The partnership between University of Michigan Health-West and Grand Rapids Community College will not only fill hospital vacancies, but also create more opportunities for nursing students, especially students coming from underserved communities who otherwise would not have access to these resources.
“I’ve been in nursing for 25 years and I’ve been in leadership for over 10 years and I’ve never seen such a diverse cohort of students,” says Steve Polega, chief nursing officer at UMH-West. and former GRCC student nurse. “There were second-career people, first-generation citizens, single moms and dads, and a big representation of LGBTQ students. It was a really good group of people.”
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Students will need to have completed one semester of the GRCC nursing program to claim tuition benefits, and will then have up to three semesters of their GRCC tuition paid by UMH-West. They will then commit to working at UMH-Ouest for two years at the end of the GRCC program and to become licensed as registered nurses. The hospital will provide additional incentives for nurses to earn their bachelor’s degree, through existing partnerships and tuition reimbursement.
“I really want to grow the nursing profession, but we don’t just want bodies or numbers,” Polega said. “We want people who are passionate about nursing and passionate about caring for others.”
The idea is that the support and investment will encourage graduates to stay at UMH-Ouest beyond the required two years, which will boost retention in the process. If they choose to leave, however, or pursue a different specialty or career, they can do so with the full support of the staff and team.
“This program allows our nurses to teach students who will eventually become their colleagues, which builds confidence in abilities and knowledge and really allows this student to start her career at a faster pace,” Hahn said. “There are a lot of people who want to become nurses, and this will enable them to do so. That was the key decision for us.”
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