(COLORADO) — The nursing shortage across the country is nothing new, but was exacerbated by the pandemic and now healthcare systems are looking for new ways to replenish the pool of nurses and empower them in their careers.

UCHealth Memorial Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Tamera Rosenbaum, a nurse for almost 30 years, said, “We’ve heard a lot of people call it the great resignation, and really what it’s been in nursing, is the great reevaluation. Nurses are reevaluating whether this career choice is for them just based on all of the stressors that we had during the pandemic.”

Rosenbaum did say that it seems to be getting a little better and UCHealth has been working toward the retention of nurses and recruiting. Nursing as a profession is projected to grow by 7% through 2029, according to the American Hospital Association. The turnover rate, however, for nurses, rose from 2.8% to 18.7% from 2020 to 2021.

The operation room nurses or perioperative nurses are the most needed positions to fill.

“Where do I see the largest deficit? Within the hospital setting, it’s unequivocally the operating room. The operating room is a very specific area that takes a lot of education and training. It is far different than anything we do in this organization and so perioperative nursing is a challenge,” Rosenbaum said.

In the past, these types of nursing positions were not filled by new graduates of nursing programs, but as times change, UCHealth has changed with them. Now, nurses can take periop 101, which trains nurses in this specific arena for one year and then has them followed for another year.

Other ways UCHealth has worked to address the shortage problem and increase retention are by looking at ways both care and connections can be improved.

“Some things that we have done here, because no one solves your problems for you, is we’ve looked at different care-delivery models. Historically in nursing, we look at nurse-to-patient ratios… and what we’ve done is we’ve looked at ‘what can we do to make sure that our nurses are operating at the top of their scope,'” Rosenbaum said.

Under typical circumstances, the nurse-to-patient ratio would be 1:5 in a medical-surgical unit. UCHealth has taken one unit and is looking at another where the ratio would be 1:6. The way they are doing that is by shifting some of the workloads off of nurses’ shoulders on onto specialists like a Patient Care Assistant (PCA) or a Patient Technology Tech (PTT).

A PCA will take some of the tasks a nurse would do to allow the nurse to focus on patient care and build that connection with the patient. A PTT troubleshoots equipment and computers for nurses and locates the equipment they’ll need which frees the nurses from having to deal with the often finicky technology that hospitals have converted to in the digital age.

“They want to spend time with their patients, they want to do those activities that bring that connection with a patient, that relationship, it’s so important for a nurse and we spend so much time doing other things rather than building that relationship with the patient,” Rosenbaum said.

Another way to invite nurses to join the UCHealth system is the incentive of paying for education. Per the website, “The UCHealth Ascend Career program provides important education benefits for employees, including the opportunity to be eligible for 100% of tuition, books and fees paid for by UCHealth for specific educational degrees.” 

This program covers continuing education as well. Rosenbaum said, “If I have an associate’s degree nurse who wants to go back to school and get her bachelor’s degree, this will pay for that. If I have a CNA [certified nursing assistant] that wants to go to nursing school, this will pay for that. If we have a high school graduate that is working in our IT department, for example, and they want to become a respiratory therapist or radiology therapist, this program will pay for that.”