Even before the pandemic, the country faced a growing shortage of nurses—a 2017 study predicted a national shortage of about 150,000 nurses in 2020 would balloon to more than 500,000 by the end of the decade. COVID-19 has only worsened this problem.
As pediatric health care institutions work to find solutions, Children’s Hospital of New Orleans has launched a program that puts a new spin on a tried-and-true recruitment initiative. “Historically there have been a lot of opportunities for tuition reimbursement for people who are interested in going to nursing school, but what sets the Called-to-Care program apart is that it's really a scholarship that is paying upfront tuition,” says Laurie Schulenberg, MPA/HCA, B.S.N., RN, NEA-BC, interim chief nursing officer, Children’s Hospital of New Orleans. “People don't have to get student loans and pay for school and then hope to be reimbursed.”
Program represents a shift in recruitment process
The Called-to-Care Scholars Program is a collaboration between Children’s Hospital’s health system (LCMC Health) and Chamberlain University to establish a pipeline of nurses for the region’s health care. The program offers up to 3 years of paid tuition for qualifying students to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) degree through Chamberlain in exchange for passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and committing to work for LCMC Health for 3 years after graduation.
“We can't sit back and do things the same way we've done them forever; it used to be that we did a recruitment lunch with the local nursing school, you’d tell them how great you are, and you filled all your open positions,” Schulenberg says. “But now we have to think differently about how we do things.”
Addressing inequalities in health care career opportunities
A key component of the initiative, according to Schulenberg, is that it creates opportunities for those who otherwise might not have been able to pursue a career in medicine. At a time when children’s hospitals are striving to eliminate inequalities in health care for its pediatric populations, she says it’s also important to level the playing field for the next generation of caregivers.
“This program is really making it affordable and accessible for people by giving them an opportunity to apply and get scholarship funds on the front end,” Schulenberg says. “We’re thinking about how we can help people who don't have privilege and how we can help them get their foot in the door into a career.”
Addressing nursing supply and demand
Called-to-Care Scholars provides tuition expenses for up to 90 students per year, but with its first class enrolled in September 2021, it will take years for the program to bear fruit. In the meantime, Schulenberg says Children’s Hospital is devising creative solutions to address its existing shortage:
- Recruiting senior-year nursing school students to work at the hospital in a limited capacity with the goal of converting them to RNs within 6 months.
- Opening a resource pool to gather and train groups of non-clinical staffers to assist with some patient care duties.
- Reconfiguring schedules to accommodate some shorter shifts and offering incentives for nurses to pick up extra shifts.
Beyond increasing the supply of nursing labor hours, Children’s Hospital is looking at the demand side of the equation. “We’re trying to see if there are ways we can automate some of the things nurses do—perhaps using artificial intelligence or robots for some tasks—to decrease the demand on our nurses,” Schulenberg says. “We're trying to be creative and not leave any stone unturned.”