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Could Foreign Nurses Solve the US Rural Hospital Staff Shortage?

It’s no secret that the US is facing a nationwide nursing shortage, with 203,700 new RNs required each year up to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019). And, it’s healthcare providers in rural areas that are having the hardest time when it comes to recruiting and retaining nursing talent. 

According to the American Hospital Association, there are about 2,000 rural hospitals in the US, including 1,328 critical access hospitals, which have fewer than 25 beds and are at least 35 miles away from another hospital. 

Why Is There An Issue? 

The Council of State Governments has reported that more than 60 percent of areas experiencing nursing shortages are in rural regions due to: 

  • Some urban healthcare facilities offering more competitive benefits. 

  • Candidates working in urban areas less prepared to adapt to the rural cultural shift. 

  • A perception that rural healthcare organizations don’t have adequate career opportunities. 

  • Concern that rural staffing shortages mean increased workloads, extended shifts, and less flexibility.  

Additionally, the number of nursing schools in a region can have a huge impact when it comes to hiring nurses at the graduate level. Working in a rural hospital can also be more intimidating for graduates in particular due to the prospect of working in isolation and the likelihood of driving long distances. 

Despite incentives such as advanced training programs and tuition reimbursement, the retention rates for one-year new graduates is poor. Rural hospitals have a one-year graduate retention rate of 77 percent, compared with urban hospitals at 85 percent, according to a study for the Journal of Nursing Administration

How Do Rural Hospitals Solve The Problem? 

An increasing number of rural hospitals are embracing a blended approach, using international, travel, and per diem nurses to handle nursing shortages.

Sourcing international talent through specialist staffing partners who can provide the support, education, and guidance nurses need has become integral to bolster staff levels for today’s rural facilities. 

In fact, foreign-born health care professionals now represent more than their share of the overall US population. For example, 14.7 percent of nurses and 22.7 percent of health aides are immigrants compared to 13.7 percent of the population as a whole, according to NAE.

What Do Rural Areas Offer Foreign Nurses? 

Aside from offering a significantly lower cost of living, affordable property prices, greater outdoor space, and less traffic congestion, rural areas are particularly attractive for international nurses for the following reasons: 

  • Getting Ingrained In A Community.  A sense of community is crucial for nurses who are new to the US. The nature of rural areas means that nurses get to be on first name terms with almost everyone they come into contact with, both at home and at work. In turn, establishing such meaningful relationships helps nurses feel more valued and respected and go a long way in increasing patient satisfaction. 

  • Greater Autonomy. Foreign nurses are attracted to rural healthcare facilities due to the independence and responsibility they offer. For example, physicians often rely more heavily on RNs in comparison to facilities in urban areas. 

  • Education. No one day is ever the same in nursing, but this is more so for RNs working in rural locations. On a day-to-day basis, nurses can expect to practice in several areas due to the proximity of different departments. This is attractive for foreign nurses as they rapidly gain knowledge across several fields. 

  • Valuable Support. Healthcare facilities that partner with specialist international staffing agencies not only benefit from access to qualified and experienced nurses but also have the peace of mind that the nurses placed with them are provided with the education and support required to keep learning and developing throughout their assignment. 

Find out more 

If you want to find out more about implementing a blended strategy to your nurse recruitment, Conexus is on-hand to help. 

Find out more about international nurses and other staffing alternatives in our free guide - 'Alternatives to the traditional 13-week assignment'.

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