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As the nurse staffing shortage in the Tampa Bay area is nearing crisis proportions, Florida nurse educators, hospital administrators, and health care officials met to confront the problem and plot a course of action.

A spring 2021 survey by the Florida Hospital Association (FHA) found that one out of four registered nurses and one out of three critical care nurses had left their jobs in the previous year. It also noted a 25 percent turnover rate, the highest over the past several years, and a projected deficit of 59,100 nurses in Florida by 2035. The Sunshine State is the third-largest employer of nurses in the country (second only to California and Texas), but the Florida Center for Nursing (PDF) latest projections suggest that by 2035, there will be a 12% drop in the number of actively employed RNs. Seniors are especially vulnerable to the crisis, as the Center anticipates a 30% shortfall of LPNs if the state doesn’t move to produce more nurses.

The issue is particularly critical in the Tampa Bay area on the Gulf coast, so the St. Petersburg College (SPC) College of Nursing recently gathered more than 50 regional stakeholders – including leaders from hospitals, education institutions, nursing associations, and government officials – to brainstorm solutions to reduce the decline.

Meeting “all in one room… made all the difference”

Louisiana Louis, DNP

Louisiana Louis, DNP, Dean of SPC College of Nursing

Stakeholders agreed on some specific action plans as well as general aims during the resulting session, Taking Action to Address the Critical Nursing Shortage in Tampa Bay. The meeting was hosted by St. Petersburg CollegePasco-Hernando State College, State College of Florida in Manatee County, and Hillsborough Community College.

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Dr. Louisana Louis, MSN, DNP, Dean of SPC’s College of Nursing, observed, “Everyone has been having solo discussions on how to address the nursing shortage. This allowed us all to be in one room. It had not been done this way before, and that made all the difference.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for nurses in Florida is expected to grow by 21 percent, while 40 percent of nurses will approach retirement age in the next decade. Stressful working conditions caused by the pandemic are also creating an increase in turnover.

“In the middle of 2021, we asked hospitals to report vacancies and turnover,” said Cheryl Love, RN, Chief Clinical and Patient Safety Officer at Florida Hospital Association. “Overall, there was an 11 percent RN vacancy rate in Florida over 12 months, which is higher than the national rate of 9.9 percent. We need to add more (nurses) than a couple thousand per year to mitigate the projected workforce shortage.”

Stakeholders identified key challenges in need of solutions:

  • Retention and recruiting of experienced nurses and nursing faculty is increasingly difficult. Primary culprits include
    • Low morale and high burnout rates in the absence of a workplace culture that supports nurses and promotes job satisfaction and loyalty
    • Lack of recurring state funding has kept salaries too low to retain and recruit sufficient staff
  • Scarcity of clinical sites for nursing students has become acute since Covid


Tackling the crisis

To address these issues, participants set out a series of action plans, and SPC is already pursuing some of these ideas:

  • Increase and allocate recurring funding from the state for educational technology and to raise faculty salaries
  • Establish creative scheduling outside the 12-hour scheduling model for nurses to free experienced nurses to teach
  • Create dedicated partnerships for clinical experiences
  • Re-imagine clinicals to explore alternative experiences and add clinical capacity
  • Cultivate student engagement and look at student evaluation methods to ensure they are rigorous, fair and equitable
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A gift last year from the Hough Family Foundation is allocated to enhance the college’s nursing simulation area so students get hands-on training to mirror situations they would see in a live clinical experience.

SPC College of Nursing Dean Louis remarked, “Another focus is getting more nurses out into the community. “We are creating a special cohort in the summer for students who were not successful in their last semester to give them another opportunity to graduate early,” she said. “And we are working on implementing an evening and weekend program within the next year, which will produce more nurses.”

Justin Senior, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, added, “These needs require a thoughtful, all-encompassing approach to educating, training, recruiting, and retaining Florida’s present and future nurses.  We are confident that by addressing the nursing pipeline through investments in nursing educational and training programs and in nursing schools that we can avoid nurse shortages and strengthen the state’s healthcare delivery system.”

The FHA/Safety Net Alliance report also recommends that the state expand nursing schools and clinical training capacity, increase the number of nurse faculty opportunities, improve pass rates of the nurse licensing exams (at present, NCLEX pass rates in the state place it in the bottom ranks nationally), and take advantage of the robust influx of people moving to Florida by increasing funding for recruitment of nurses from outside the state.

Daily Nurse Staff
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