Sanford offering nurses $15,000 sign-up bonusFARGO – The demands on a hospital nurse are significant. Work schedules often include weekends and holidays; only the sickest patients end up in a hospital bed these days.
By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM
FARGO – The demands on a hospital nurse are significant. Work schedules often include weekends and holidays; only the sickest patients end up in a hospital bed these days.
It means attracting and keeping experienced nurses in a hospital setting is a challenge – so challenging that Sanford Health in Fargo is offering sign-up bonuses of $15,000 for registered nurses with at least two years of experience who commit to stay at least three years.
The unusual incentive, which rolled out a little more than a week ago, has helped Sanford sign up two dozen nurses as of Friday.
“We have had very good success,” said Ann Christenson, Sanford’s vice president of human resources for its north division, based in Fargo. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries.”
She added, “Our goal is to get experienced nurses.”
Figures from Job Service North Dakota show that experienced registered nurses in Fargo last year earned an average of $66,640. Average entry-level pay was $48,040, and the mid-range figure was $55,010.
Experience is important because of the increasing complexity of care for hospital patients, and the increasingly sophisticated technology, which requires a combination of skills and critical thinking, said Carla Hansen, Sanford’s chief nursing executive in Fargo.
Sanford also has experienced growing patient volumes – demand that is forecast to increase when it opens its new south Fargo medical center in phases from 2016 to 2018.
Sanford’s nursing shortage is especially acute because of the increasing number of career alternatives that are available to nurses outside the hospital, Hansen said.
Clinics have long been an option, of course, where the hours are more regular. But nurses also can go on to become nurse practitioners, work as medical reviewers, or as consultants in the growing field of health technology.
“All these things combined add to the need,” Hansen said.
Essentia Health in Fargo is not offering sign-up bonuses for experienced registered nurses, and does not plan to do so as of now, an executive said.
“Our concern is about the fairness to the current staff,” said Doug Vang, Essentia’s senior vice president of operations in North Dakota. “They’re working hard, and we highly value them.”
Although Essentia continually hires nurses, it does not face a shortage, Vang said. “Our number of openings is moderate.”
The turnover rate for hospital nurses, however, is rising at Essentia, for many of the same reasons Sanford executives cited. And keeping experienced nurses is also a challenge for Essentia.
To try to keep nurses, Essentia strives to make its work schedules more attractive, and regularly surveys and meets in groups with nursing staff, said Ann Malmberg, Essentia’s vice president of patient care and chief of nursing in Fargo.
So far, she said, Essentia hasn’t lost any nurses to Sanford’s generous sign-up bonus – but recently lost a nurse hired away to Williston in the booming Oil Patch.
Meanwhile, Sanford’s recent merger with Medcenter One in Bismarck offers a new twist on an old idea – a hospital-based nursing school.
Medcenter One operates the only remaining hospital-run nursing program in North Dakota. MeritCare, Sanford’s predecessor health system in Fargo, graduated its last class of nurses in 1987.
Because of increasing demand, Medcenter One’s nursing school – which soon will officially don the Sanford name – recently increased its enrollment from 50 to 65 students.
“It’s been a win-win,” beneficial both to nursing students and the medical center, said Karen Latham, the Medcenter school’s provost and dean.
“Our applicant pool
hasn’t really changed,” she said. “It’s just now we’re in a position to accept more applicants,” because of increasing demand for nurses.
To meet that need, the school is adding classroom space. It has a dozen full-time faculty members and two-part time.
The nursing students, who graduate with a four-year, baccalaureate degree, spend their first two years at an accredited college, and their final two years at the medical center.
Sanford executives in Fargo are taking a look at Medcenter’s hospital-based nursing school model, Hansen said.
MeritCare closed its nursing school, which awarded two-year diplomas, because North Dakota began requiring a four-year, baccalaureate degree for registered nurses in the 1980s. That requirement later was dropped.
“This is in the very early stages of conversation,” Hansen said, adding that no timeline has been set for a decision about whether to expand the program further in light of the July merger.
Sanford’s close partnership with the four-year nursing programs at area colleges – including North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College and the University of North Dakota – will continue, she said.
That teaching collaboration already entails practical education in hospital and clinical settings.
Medcenter One has not found it necessary to offer sign-on bonuses for nurses, but Latham expects the demand for nurses to continue to grow, in no small part because of the aging population’s increasing demand for health care.
“In the not-too-distant future,” she said, “the shortage is going to be more and more acute.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522