WASHINGTON – Maryland has a nursing crisis, but you wouldn’t know it by visiting North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie.
Maryland hospitals have a shortage of 2,000 nurses — a deficit that could grow to 17,000 within a decade — and nearly 13 percent of hospital nursing jobs are vacant statewide. But at North Arundel, the vacancy rate hovers around 1 percent.
“It’s like one big family here,” said Susan Parker, a nurse on the sixth floor of the hospital. And turnover is low: Parker and many others have worked together for at least 10 years.
Hospital officials attribute that to the incentives they offer their nurses. Educational benefits include a seven-week internship program for all new nurses, and a career-training program that allows someone to begin work as a nursing assistant and end up a registered nurse, said Kathy Poehler, the hospital’s manager of compensation and benefits.
The Senate is now trying to expand such benefits across the country to help head off a projected shortage of 800,000 nurses by 2020.
An amendment to the fiscal 2004 appropriations bill for health, labor and education would increase federal funding for scholarship and loan repayment programs for nurses who work in facilities with a critical shortage. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., boosts the Nurse Reinvestment Act and other nursing workforce development programs by $50 million, bringing the total to almost $163 million.
The House did not include that language in its version of the health appropriations bill, and the difference will have to be settled in conference.
The Nurse Reinvestment Act has the potential of recruiting more nurses, but the work environment needs to improve as well to prevent nurses from leaving, said Donna Dorsey, executive director of the Maryland Board of Nursing. As the profession ages, for example, nurses increasingly suffer back injury from moving patients.
Nurses at North Arundel are encouraged to keep a “Love-Me Box” full of mementos from thankful patients — to open whenever they’re having a bad day. The hospital also offers retention bonuses to nurses every six months, Parker said.
And as Hurricane Isabel loomed Thursday, fifth-floor nurse manager Diane Jewer thanked everyone for coming in.
“We really value these employees,” said Jewer, who oversees more than 100 nurses at North Arundel. “I don’t think that a lot of institutions do that.”
Since nurses are largely underappreciated and overworked, they are increasingly looking for other opportunities, experts say. It isn’t like 50 years ago, when women entering the working world were largely limited to becoming either a nurse or a teacher, Jewer noted.
Now the field desperately needs both. This spring, the University of Maryland School of Nursing had to turn away 100 qualified applicants because it did not have enough teachers.
The school was able to admit 20 additional students this fall through a partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University Hospital, said Janet Allen, the school’s dean. The School of Nursing paid faculty from those institutions to teach its students.
The Board of Nursing Managers requires a maximum of 10 students per instructor, a ratio that nursing schools have not been able to reach. Mikulski’s amendment would cancel their education loans of those who agree to teach at nursing schools.
Today, women are more likely to enter medical school than nursing school, so the nursing field is trying to recruit more young men. For reasons that are not entirely clear, men and minorities remain in nursing jobs longer than women, Dorsey said.
“You have to have a certain mindset to be a nurse,” said Jewer. “It’s very hard work.”
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