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Illinois facing potential future nursing shortage

Mary Anne Wesoloski has enjoyed working as a school nurse for the past 15 years.

Wesoloski, who works at Countryside Elementary School in Barrington, Ill., can quickly rattle off the benefits she has enjoyed as a school nurse, including a fair salary, a flexible schedule that allowed her to be close to her children and a “rewarding, challenging work environment, every day.”

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Mary Anne Wesolowski, RN

But as the president of the Illinois Association of School Nurses, Wesoloski, MSN, RN, PEL-CSN, NCSN, is concerned there soon may not be enough new school nurses to replenish the ranks of nurses, who like her, are nearing 60 and approaching retirement age.

Earlier this year, the Illinois Center for Nursing released the results of its 2014 Workforce Survey, which found Illinois soon could face a potential shortage of nurses to replace an ever growing number of retiring nurses.

“As more baby boomers approach retirement, it is essential that our healthcare industry has the ability to quanify the forthcoming need for additional healthcare professionals and other healthcare services,” Bryan Schnieder, secretary for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees the Illinois Center for Nursing, said in a news release. “The RN Workforce Survey is certainly a tool that will assist and guide workforce planners as they seek to determine what types of RN will be in greatest demand, as well as the types of specialties and skills required of future models of care.”

Demographic trends

Conducted from March-May 2014, the 28-question survey collected voluntary responses from 52,902 nurses, representing 31% of Illinois’ total RN population, who were renewing their licenses online. Overall, the report indicated 40% of nurses in Illinois are over 55, and one-third of these intend to retire in the next five years. The report predicted the pending shortage could be even more pronounced among various nursing specialties, including school nursing, home health, community health and psychiatric nursing.

Among school nurses, Wesoloski said ISNA data confirm the potential dearth. She said of the approximately 700 school nurses in Illinois, half are 55 years or older, and a quarter are older than 60.

The survey’s results did not surprise representatives of area hospitals.

The report indicates nursing recruitment efforts at hospitals and other facilities in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs likely will not suffer as much as other more rural areas of the state. But hospital representatives said they are still taking steps to prepare for the looming demographic changes.

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Barbara Holmes Goebel, MSN, RN, AOCN, the hospital’s director of professional practice and development, said the hospital near Chicago’s downtown has been successful in recruiting recent BSN graduates, as reflected in an average age of 37 among its nurses.

But Goebel said the hospital is still concerned as more seasoned nurses approach retirement. She estimated about 5% of Northwestern’s nurses are over 60 years old. “Generally, when a nurse is 60 years old and they retire, they’re taking a tremendous amount of experience and intuition with them,” she said.

Goebel said that kind of knowledge is invaluable not only for the patients those nurses care for, but also for the younger nurses they mentor.

“This is a concern for us at Northwestern Memorial, and nationally,” Goebel said. “We’re talking about this a lot.”

Elsewhere in the region, the issue has also drawn the attention at health systems such as Centegra in McHenry County in Chicago’s far northwest suburbs, according to Steve Osborne, Centegra’s nurse recruiter.

Finding new nurses

While the average age among nurses at Centegra is 43, Osborne said it is much older in some specialties, such as behavioral health. Some units, he said, carry an average age of between 51 to 60.

Osborne said the challenge is made more daunting by the need to hire more nurses for expanded facilities. In Huntley, Ill., Centegra soon will open its newest hospital, and he expects to need to hire an additional 150 nurses for that facility.

To address potential shortfalls, Osborne said Centegra has created workforce planning models to help move nurses up the ranks into critical areas, such as surgical services, where more experienced nurses may be nearing retirement.

Centegra also has partnered with nursing schools on red carpet clinicals, providing nursing students with ample training opportunities to make Centegra a more likely destination for many pursuing nursing careers. Centegra also has stepped up partnerships with local high schools and marketing efforts geared to local teens to help make nursing a more attractive career choice for middle and high school students in the region.

“This is something that’s a little like a volcano or a glacier,” Osborne said. “You know it’s coming, so you need to make changes to be ready.”

 

By | 2015-09-01T20:54:19-04:00 September 1st, 2015|Categories: Greater Chicago|0 Comments

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Jonathan Bilyk is a freelance writer.

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