Kentucky is experiencing a shortage of registered nurses in their hospitals and clinics. This shortage is due to the aging "baby boomer" population placing a strain on healthcare resources, the expansion of the Affordable Care Act leading to more people seeking treatment, and the increasing numbers of Kentucky residents being diagnosed with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke.

To address the shortage, University of Kentucky Healthcare and the College of Nursing implemented education incentives to attract new nurses and provide current nurses more opportunities for professional development. Although other healthcare facilities offer monetary incentives such as sign-on bonuses, UK aims to focus on recruiting nurses looking to expand their skill set.

Some of the incentives include tuition assistance, loan-repayment programs and continuing education programs. For example, the Nursing Professional Advancement program will reward nurses with pay differentials added to their base pay if they participate in the new development opportunities. The university’s nurse residency program for new graduate students will provide regular contact with experts and mentors so students can better transition into the professional world.

Making sure that nurses have the administrative and professional support they need while working in an encouraging workplace can be the most effective incentive. Nora Warshawsky, associate professor in the College of Nursing said, “The work environment is instrumental in retaining nurses. Supporting nurse managers is critical to the patient care experience. They are the chief retention officers. Nurses who are treated with respect are nurses who are likely to stay."

UK Healthcare’s reputation will also play a role when looking to solve the nursing shortage. US News and World Report named UK Healthcare the best hospital in Kentucky and it achieved top 50 rankings in cancer treatment, neurology, geriatrics and diabetes and endocrinology.

Even though the number of registered nurses has increased over the years, it has not increased enough to balance out the number of nurses retiring each year. In addition, between 3,000 and 4,000 registered nurses are not currently working and almost 800 registered nurses in Kentucky have left the healthcare field. Nursing programs have had to deny admission to applicants due to limitations in classroom space and faculty shortage. This nursing shortage has led to nurses experiencing increased patient loads, stress and job dissatisfaction. Inadequate nurse staffing levels are also linked to higher rates of patient falls, medication errors and death. The educational incentives provided by UK Healthcare should drive more nurses to Kentucky.