Cultivating the health care workforce of the future

There is a huge shortage of nurses across the U.S., including in Washington State. This has a direct impact on patient care. Washington State needs more than 6,000 registered nurses (RNs) to fill all the vacancies in our hospitals. To make up the difference, hospitals typically rely on expensive traveling nurses, and the number of traveling nurses nearly tripled between 2021 and 2022. A long-term fix requires a multifaceted approach.

Retain the current workforce

The unemployment rate for Washington’s RNs is exceedingly low, with only 1.1% of licensed RNs unemployed and seeking work. A hospital patient care unit staffing innovation collaborative will help retain this workforce by exploring and sharing modern innovations in hospital staffing.

Hospitals would report staffing trends – such as vacancies, turnover rates and reasons for leaving jobs – to the collaborative, and the collaborative will then report back to the Legislature. Widespread adoption of these modern hospital staffing models will ease the administrative burden on hospital-based nurses, allowing them to get back to doing what the joined the industry for: caring for their patients.

Attract nurses who are already trained to work in Washington hospitals

Hospitals across the country are competing to attract nurses to their facilities. Washington State can become a sought-after location for nurses deciding where they want to practice. Hospital-based student loan repayment assistance – funded in partnership with hospitals – can offer financial relief for workers.

The Washington State Legislature passed a bill in 2023 authorizing the state to join the Nurse Licensure Compact, which is a network of 39 other states that allows for easy licensing to practice across state lines. This makes it easier for nurses to relocate to Washington and start practicing quickly. Prohibiting staffing agencies from penalizing hospitals for using traveling nurses will further promote direct hiring.

Attract new nurses to the field

Supporting education is key to getting new nurses to enter the field. Washington can continue and expand the Washington State Nurse Preceptorship Incentive Program to fund nurse preceptor grants, develop regional clinical placement collaboratives between nursing schools and health care partners, and standardize clinical placement hours across educational institutions.

Reinforce nurse staffing committee laws

Washington State’s nurse staffing committee laws allow nurses at each hospital to establish their own staffing structures. These committees can be reinforced by strengthening the enforcement mechanism for non-compliance, requiring them to file charters and requiring them to use a uniform format for nurse staffing plans. Other strategies include increasing CEO accountability for changes to nurse staffing plans and creating a statewide technical assistance team to support nurse staffing committees.