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The Nursing Industry Shift: What HR Needs to Know

by Caroline Boyland December 14, 2022

The Nursing Industry Shift: What HR Needs to Know

Healthcare facilities across the United States are facing never-before-seen hiring and retention challenges. Medical professionals of all levels are in high demand to fill existing vacancies and help facilities expand — and hiring and retaining nurses, specifically, is posing an especially difficult challenge for HR teams.

The causes of these challenges run deep. To understand the situation HR professionals are facing, we need to look at the entire industry and how it is transforming.

Nursing in Numbers

Registered nurses have always been in high demand in the United States. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), nurses make up the largest group of healthcare professionals in the country. The ANA counts more than 4.3 million nurses currently working in healthcare facilities across the country.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the median age of nurses was 52 years old. More than 20% stated at the time that they were planning to retire within the next five years.

Nursing schools are working to fill the gap, but they are struggling to meet demand as the current nursing shortage accelerates.

Dealing with a Generational Shift

The nursing sector is no stranger to labor shortages. The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) reports that nursing shortages date back as far as the early 1900s— with wars and recessions being the driver for a lack of nurses. However, the USAHS believes that the current shortage is more severe than ever before.

One of the underlying causes of the current nursing shortage is a generational shift. Our population is growing older and the generation of baby boomer nurses is retiring, or getting close to it. This wave of retirement has two effects: the nursing sector is losing a large number of highly qualified and experienced registered nurses. At the same time, the demand for nursing services is growing as the percentage of the population over the age of 65 is rising. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2030, 73 million Americans will be older than 65, a huge increase from 41 million people in 2011.

With baby boomers retiring, the nursing workforce will mainly be made up of Millennials and Gen Z-ers. One of the biggest generational differences between the older and younger generations is that many younger workers are not as “settled” in geographical location as older workers may be. Baby boomers may have lived in the same area, working at the same hospital for many years. Younger workers, who may have no ties holding them to a town (for example, those who don’t yet own homes or have children), may feel less attached to their hospital or health system. This leads to the next factor driving the nursing shortage…

The Rise of Travel Nursing

The travel nursing industry has been absolutely booming over the past two years. Pandemic related burnout, higher wages, and better benefits are all fueling nurses to look towards travel nursing — where nurses have more control over their hours and schedule, and often are better compensated for their time.

Hospital administrators started looking for these specialized team members, whilst first-time travel nurses enjoyed the opportunity to learn and expand their skill set. Travel nursing became more popular because of a combination of all these factors. At this stage, even though the pandemic is waning, openings for permanent and temporary nursing staff continue to grow.

How HR Can Combat These Obstacles

With the nursing industry seeing a generational shift, and nurses transitioning to travel roles for better compensation, HR teams can think of benefits as a strategic lever to combat these two obstacles and drive attraction and retention.

When it comes to generational disparities, it’s key to remember that benefits are not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you want to better attract and retain employees across all generations, it’s critical that you personalize benefits education and vary your benefits offering to appeal to employees of all ages.

For example, while baby boomers may be thinking more about their retirement fund, millennials may be thinking about saving for a home, and gen-z might be worried about paying off student loans. Taking a personalized approach to benefits education can help your employees understand your benefits offering and which best apply to their unique situation.

If employees are leaving to work for travel nursing agencies because of better compensation, it’s important to show employees that the benefits your company offers can drive cost savings for themselves and their families. Once again, taking a personalized approach to benefits education can help employees choose the plans that best suit their financial needs and goals, and can teach them how they can better save with pre-tax accounts like HSAs, FSAs, and more.


When workforces are burnt out, understaffed, and uninspired, patient outcomes can be affected. In fact, according to research from ConnectRN, 9 in 10 nurses believe that the quality of patient care often suffers due to nursing shortages, and 56% of nurses have noticed that their patients have suffered because they have too much on their plate as nurses.

HR teams need to analyze the challenges facing their facility when it comes to retirement, burnout, and other factors. Based on that, human resources professionals can develop a tailored approach to talent retention. Benefits can be the key to creating more satisfied employees across all generations.

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