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Nurse Shortage Hasn't Healed 

Talk about intensive. In the past year, health-care companies have pulled out all the stops to lure more people to the profession — and into paying jobs.

Recruiters for Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia Hospitals even traveled to the Middle East to look for nurses. "That's not still a viable option," says JoAnne Henry, director of VCU's Office of Health Care Policy.

Companies also increased their pay rates and benefits, and started advertising campaigns. And the profession lobbied the state for changes. Last year the General Assembly agreed to study the problem and recommend solutions. And a bill passed recently allows nurses licensed in Canada to practice in Virginia.

Still, a recent survey showed that about 10 to 12 percent of local nursing positions are unfilled, according to Barbara Brown, vice president of the Virginia Hospital HealthCare Association. "In some cases the vacancy rate is down," Brown says, because of scholarships, increased salaries and better schedules.

Some of those strategies have apparently worked at CJW Medical Center, which is run by HCA Richmond Hospitals and has campuses at Chippenham and Johnston-Willis. Spokesman Mark Foust says the number of open nursing positions there has fallen.

"I think retention is just as important as recruitment," Foust says. "We're trying to create an environment where nurses can meet their professional and personal needs." Besides CJW, other local HCA hospitals include the two campuses of Henrico Doctors' Hospital and Retreat Hospital.

"We have dramatically decreased our turnover rate over the last year," says Carol Crosby, chief nursing officer of the VCU Health Center. MCV has also succeeded in recruitment and retention, she says.

But the problem will require long-term solutions because the profession is aging and so is the public. Baby boomers will reach retirement age around 2010, Brown says, so the profession will need to get about 20 percent more students in nursing schools.

For now, ad campaigns are continuing, along with movements to recruit more men, minorities and nurses from other countries.

"People are not interested in nursing the way they used to be," says Henry, who also is co-chairwoman of the Virginia Partnership for Nursing. "Sadly, there's not going to be a quick fix. It takes more than a year to change the perceptions that people have."

— David Clementson and Jason Roop

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