Thursday, April 5, 2012

Strong Demand

Is healthcare recession-proof?
Technology is playing an increasing role in nursing practice and education.
By Beth Puliti

Posted on: April 2, 2012

New reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) certainly suggest it is.

In the first 2 months of 2012, the healthcare sector has accounted for one in five new jobs in the overall economy, which exceeds job growth throughout much of 2011.

Specifically, in February, the healthcare sector created 49,000 jobs - up from 43,300 jobs the month before, according to the BLS.

Rhonda M. Zaleski, MS, RN, CHPN, corporate director, nurse recruitment and workforce planning at University of Pennsylvania Health System, noted the market for nurses with BSNs and those advancing their education are strong.

In fact, nursing positions account for almost 50 percent of all open positions at Penn Nursing.

"As organizations face more challenges and complexity in providing healthcare, highly educated and diverse nurses with BSN, master's and doctorate nursing degrees with skill beyond traditional functional discipline prove to be in demand," she remarked.

Regional Hiring Trends

It's no secret that, over the past 2 years, the economy has impacted the ability of new nursing graduates to find a job.

However, nurses are critical to an organization, noted Zaleski.

"Evidence that educated nurses play a pivotal role in patient safety and better patient outcomes has been acknowledged by the healthcare industry both locally and nationally," she said.

The release of the Institute of Medicine's Future of Nursing report, along with data that healthcare facilities with a higher percentage of BSNs enjoy better patient outcomes and significantly lower mortality rates, has driven organizations' recruitment to prefer BSN-only hires with a plan to increase the percentage of BSNs over time.

Zaleski acknowledged new graduate employment continues to be competitive.

However, she is encouraged as more organizations start to rethink hiring new grads to grow a higher percentage of BSNs while recruiting a younger workforce to proactively plan for nurse retirements as the economy lifts.

"At Penn Medicine, our Recruitment and Workforce Plan projected increases in nursing management and advanced practice where we experienced a 32 percent increase in advanced practice hires and 2.5 percent increase in nursing management hires that continue on this upper trend," revealed Zaleski.

She stated 40 percent of all nursing hires come from the internal nursing workforce, which gives nurses the opportunity to advance within the health system.

Regional Salary Trends

In May 2010, the BLS estimated the mean annual wage of a registered nurse in the Philadelphia metropolitan area was $72,100. Also at this time, the mean hourly rate was $34.66.

Zaleski noted nurses who advance their level of education, certification and specialty create more demand for their employment and are paid more based on experience and higher education.

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Wendy Gable, director of recruitment at Temple University Health System, said salaries within Temple's health system are based on experience.

However, nurses with advanced degrees would have the ability to earn higher salaries based on the fact that these positions tend to pay in a higher range for the additional education and experience requirements.

The shifts that RNs work can also affect their pay through shift differential, added Gable. Certifications are another area, as well as further education to move into a higher role.

"Salary is a piece of a nurse's total rewards package. Pay is important, but benefits, growth and development possibilities, and work/life balance are also significant factors," said Gable.

Zaleski added nurses can expect that Magnet-designated hospitals and large academic facilities are now requiring master's-prepared nurses for nurse manager and nursing leadership positions, and a trend toward more doctorate-prepared nurses at the director and executive nurse level.

"Experienced nurses going back to school, embracing technology and seeking interest in nursing leadership in both clinical and administrative [areas] have a high potential for advancement," said Zaleski.

Driven by the Consumer

The Internet has made it easy, fast and convenient for the general public to seek out health information, noted Kellie Smith, EdD, RN, assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University Jefferson School of Nursing.

As patients and families are routinely educating themselves in all aspects of wellness, health and disease, nursing students are taught how to evaluate healthcare information that is on the Internet to assist patients in receiving accurate and up-to-date information.

"This is crucial as often websites are not peer-reviewed and have no quality controls," remarked Smith.

"Consumer-driven health education can be used in a positive way with the nurse and patient working in partnership to affect improved health."

She also mentioned that changing demographics and increased diversity - both in the U.S. population and student demographics - have affected nursing education.

"Cultural competency is an important component within the nursing curriculum, such as learning to respect other cultures and how to incorporate cultural sensitivity into patient care," she said.

Zane Wolf, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean and professor at La Salle University School of Nursing and Health Sciences, concurred.

"I think that diverse experiences help students look more realistically at patients. They look at themselves and their own particular cultural perspectives, and begin to look at other ways of behaving, thinking and using healthcare. You learn about yourself when you see the differences among your colleagues and the way they approach things," she said.

The 21st Century Nurse

Faculty is increasingly infusing information and instructional technology into teaching/learning practices in the classroom, laboratory and clinical settings, noted Smith.

"Instructional technology has moved beyond referential support and is currently supporting low- and high-fidelity simulation scenarios, mobile tablet computing, and enhanced inter- and intra-communication platforms," she said.

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Through mobile tablet computing, such as the iPad, nursing students have uninterrupted access to vast databases of knowledge that can be accessed anytime anywhere, including nursing skills videos, patient care algorithms and care maps, e-books and clinical companion references.

"Nurses of the 21st century need to be versed in the nursing process and standard nursing competencies as outlined in the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice," advised Smith.

She believes technology is playing an increasing role in healthcare practice and education.

"Nurses must possess the necessary skills to effectively utilize patient care technology at the bedside, communicate and participate on interprofessional teams to enhance patient care quality and outcomes, and assume a leadership role in evidence-based patient care."

Wolf said nursing students today must be aware of trends and recognize they are never going to stop learning - both direct clinical skills and the thinking abilities that are enhanced with easy access to information.

"With easy access also brings an overwhelming amount of information. Nursing students are going to have to develop more analytical reading comprehension strategies to manage it," she said.

Beth Puliti is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.

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