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Dr. Seuss and the Rural Nursing Shortage



In 1971, Dr. Seuss published The Lorax, an environmental fable about overusing a resource to the point that it disappears. For anyone trying to hire and retain nurses right now, that might sound especially ominous.


For the first time in two decades, staffing shortages have overtaken financial pressures as the top concern for hospital CEOs, and that's driving a wave of competition that is both unprecedented and unsustainable. When travel nurses can command a $40,000 signing bonus, you know the compensation model is broken.


RHI co-founder Dawn Carter made The Lorax analogy in a recent interview with Jarrard Inc, noting that nurses are a resource to cultivate and nurture for the long term. Fair compensation is a must, but the current "land grab" mentality could be catastrophic for rural hospitals without the financial muscle to keep up.


Systemic issues won't be solved overnight, but Dawn offered four tips to help rural hospitals weather the immediate staffing crisis.

  1. Provide time off. Money isn't the only thing that drives career decisions. Nurses are burned out and looking for some extra space to recharge. It might not be easy to offer that space, but it's certainly easier than finding a new employee.

  2. Highlight career development. Jumping at today's highest offer isn't always the best long-term career choice. As big, complex organizations, hospitals can offer real advancement opportunities for employees willing to put down roots. That's a point worth reinforcing right now.

  3. Have the hard conversations. Staff need to understand that those juicy bonuses for travel nurses are driven by stopgap federal programs rather than sustainable revenue streams. Yes, that's creating temporary inequities between temps and staff, but it's not about poor business decisions or management strategy.

  4. Have the heartfelt conversations. Relationships matter. Now more than ever, it's time to focus on leader rounding and one-on-ones. Staff nurses need to know that you see them, hear them, and value them. They need to know that you understand their struggle and that you feel it, too. The Lorax might have put it best: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

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