South Dakota sees rise in nursing licenses amidst healthcare shortage

Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 1:22 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Nursing shortage is a buzzword in healthcare. Healthcare systems everywhere are fighting for a dwindling number of nurses.

However, in South Dakota the number of nursing licenses is on the rise, comparing 2023 to 2020 there are 1250 more nursing licenses. However, this still does not meet the state’s needs. So, a short-term solution that hospitals look to is travel nurses.

Barb Hespen, Chief Nurse Officer at Monument Health says the shortage is nothing new. “I often say we had a nursing shortage 37 years ago when I graduated from nursing school.”

The shortage is two-pronged aging nurses retiring and burnout. This is coupled with healthcare jobs growing faster than people entering the profession.

A short-term solution Hespen has seen as a growing viable option for the past 5 years is travel nurses. However, this can be costly to a hospital. A 2023 NSI Nursing Solutions report says just 20 travel nurses can cost more than $3,140,000. That same report states on average South Dakota’s nursing turnover rate is 17.1%. Each percent change in Registered Nurses represents a difference of $380,600 per year.

Hespen recognizes travel nurses are a short-term solution and focuses on recruiting permanent nurses. “The increase in traveling has really been quite high the last 4 or 5 years.”

Recently Monument Health has funneled money into recruitment programs, like scholarships to get a bachelor’s in nursing. Monument Health also partners with Western Dakota Tech helping people become Certified Nursing Assistants. Monument Health also contributed 2 million dollars for a new building at Black Hills State University’s Rapid City Campus to help expand nursing programs in western South Dakota.

Hespen says the investment is worth it. The Nursing Solutions report previously mentioned says RN recruitment in the region is the highest in the nation, averaging 101 days (about 3 and a half months). The National Average is 95 days (about 3 months).

A recent class visit reflects Monument’s commitment to hiring out-of-college RNs. “I think there were about 22 people in the class. They’ll graduate in December. Raising their hand about where they wanted to go working in a hospital in Rapid City. By a show of hands, I would say a large majority of the people want to come.”

That 22 is just a fraction of the more than 100 RN openings currently at Monument Health.