Using Education Benefits to Help with Nurse Staffing Challenges Blog

Providing Educational Opportunities Can Help with Nurse Staffing Challenges


Nurse burnout. Compassion fatigue. Early retirement. These issues and more are straining our health care system and causing leaders to rethink how they can better support their nursing teams.

One tool at their disposal is offering education benefits. By doing so, health care leaders can help attract and retain motivated, engaged nurses who can make a greater contribution to their hospitals or heath care systems. Education, in turn, can give nurses the knowledge and skills to provide better care for their patients.

It’s a deeper problem than many health care leaders are willing to admit

“Health care leaders are reporting high levels of burnout on their nursing staffs,” explains Adele Webb, executive dean of healthcare initiatives, Strategic Education, Inc. “This leads to a revolving door situation where nurses are constantly coming and going.”

For hospitals and health care systems, this creates challenges of cost. It can take up valuable resources to replace nurses and train new ones or to hire traveler nurses, who are often paid a higher wage than full-time staff members.

A high turnover rate also leads to a loss of institutional experience. Nurses new to an organization will need more time to understand its policies and culture. Adding to the problem: when senior nurses retire early, it creates a dearth of staff members who are prepared to move into leadership positions.

Dulce Castillo, benefits analyst, Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC), underlines this issue from the perspective of smaller communities. “The current shortage of health care workers across the nation has increased staffing challenges for us,” Castillo explains. “Being in a rural community means we’re seeing decreased candidate pools – especially for specialized roles.”

As a result of these trends, many health care organizations have had to scale back the services they offer and even the number of available in-patient hospital beds. Some nursing homes are limiting admissions due to staffing shortages, while others are considering closing their doors altogether.

Providing pathways to professional development can help

Across industries with high turnover rates, employers seek ways to better support their staff. Often, this takes the form of benefits, which can make the organization a compelling place to work for potential new hires. Benefits can also help show that an organization is invested in its employees’ ability to thrive in their careers.

Offering access to development opportunities and education benefits can also be an effective way to retain employees. According to a recent global survey by McKinsey and Company across industries, 41% of over 13,000 respondents cited lack of career development/advancement as the most common reason for quitting their previous jobs.

The same motivation can be true for health care professionals. “Nurses, especially those who are newer and younger, are interested in improving their career path, having more responsibility, and learning more skills,” Webb explains. “When organizations offer pathways to professional development, particularly education benefits, they find that their nurses feel supported and heard and rewarded, which makes them more likely to stay in their positions.”

Diana Maldonado, benefits supervisor at YRMC, echoes with this idea, citing how YRMC’s nursing staff “values the opportunity to obtain their education and grow into leadership as well as advanced practitioner positions within our organization.”

In addition to helping staff feel supported, Webb explains the larger benefit of providing learning and development opportunities. “Research supports that having more education results in higher levels of quality patient care,” she says. “Isn't that what we’re all working toward? It’s the reason so many of us enter this field. And with more education, nurses can get added satisfaction from their daily work, knowing that they’re making a difference.”

A focus on nurses’ needs

As hospitals look for ways to attract and retain nursing staff, it’s important to consider nurses’ needs and educational interests. “YRMC’s benefits program aims to engage, attract, and retain quality health care professionals,” Castillo explains. “Through partnerships with in-network universities, our team members are able to obtain a degree with little or no out-of-pocket costs.”

Webb underlines how offering education benefits is important, but it’s also necessary to make the process as easy as possible. “Nurses are already overwhelmed and stressed in their day-to-day lives – they’re burning out,” she explains. “When we offer them development opportunities, we need to do so in a way that’s easy for them to access. It should be a straightforward process, one that doesn’t take up too much of their already scarce time.”

It’s helpful for organizations to think of education benefits as a win-win. Not only can they address nurses’ interests in learning new skills, they can keep nurses satisfied and thriving in their positions. For hospitals, increasing levels of education can also help improve patient care outcomes in their community.

To explore expanding education benefits for your team, connect with us here.

Nurse burnout. Compassion fatigue. Early retirement. These issues and more are straining our health care system and causing leaders to rethink how they can better support their nursing teams.