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Hospitals and States Compete Amid US Nursing Shortage


The United States today is suffering a severe nursing shortage, which is only expected to get worse. VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports that the shortage is pitting hospital against hospital and state against state in a stiff competition for the relatively few nurses willing and able to work.

In hospitals across America, there are more than 100,000 nursing positions available. The U.S. Labor Department is forecasting 800,000 openings by the year 2020. The demand is greatest in California, where a new law mandates one nurse for every five patients.

Pediatric nurse Jennifer Hall is one of them. She makes $60,000 per year and works only three days a week -- an indication of how much hospitals are willing to pay. In addition, Ms. Hall has a generous benefit package.

"I get free private housing, I get utility reimbursement, I get free insurance,” she says.

California also has a team of recruiters whose job is to find nurses in other states.

Not to be outdone, the governor of Illinois recently signed a series of new laws aimed at attracting nurses to that state. One of the measures increases grants for nursing education, another makes it easier for foreign nurses to practice in the state, and yet another prohibits hospitals from requiring nurses to work overtime.

Many states actively promote nursing as a career at high schools and even middle schools. Norfolk, Virginia offers teenagers a nursing camp.

"It's very interesting to see it because you get a feel for what you want to do," said one student.

Meanwhile in the state of Texas, nurses who signed with one hospital in Dallas were entered into a drawing for one of four free automobiles offered as employment incentives. And at least four in ten hospitals offer cash bonuses -- some as high as $15,000 -- for signing a nursing contract.

And nursing schools are trying to market the profession to men, who traditionally avoid it.

"We do target it to some of the macho images that our own students told us would be helpful in attracting males," says Dr. Patricia Stark at the University of Texas Medical School.

Americans hospitals are also enlisting many foreign nurses eager for better wages. India and other countries where English is widely spoken are targets for recruiters. A new life overseas and money are not the only incentives, says Sapish Chawla, a spokeswoman for a nursing school in New Delhi.

"Working environments are much better [overseas]. What they have learnt in their training programs, they can practice overseas, which is lacking with us."

The U.S. nursing shortage is blamed on several factors. Women today have other career options and more nurses are reaching retirement age just as America's aging population needs more medical care.