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UCLA Magazine Winter 2002
It's not your parents dorm anymore
Outside the Ivory Tower
A beautiful Mind
The Long March
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Critical Care

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Winter 2002
Critical Care
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Indeed, only Nevada has a lower ratio of RNs per 100,000 population than California, where one-in-five hospital-nursing positions is unfilled. More ominous, Cowan adds, is that California has the highest projected population growth in the nation over the next two decades.

At UCLA Medical Center, officials say the crisis hasn’t yet affected patient care. The prestige associated with the hospital and its reputation as a stimulating working environment for nurses have proved beneficial in attracting RNs, notes Heidi Crooks, senior associate director for patient services and operations for UCLA Healthcare. Crooks and her staff are also benefiting from having taken the initiative several years ago in establishing a one-year residency program as a way for new-graduate nurses to gain much-needed work experience. That program, which began at a time when other academic centers were shying away from investing in inexperienced nurses, has contributed to a drop in the average age of a UCLA Medical Center nurse to just under 40 years old — significantly lower than the national average of 44. The Department of Nursing’s recruitment staff has redoubled its efforts, going to health fairs, high schools and community colleges to interest young people in nursing and bring them to UCLA Medical Center to meet the nurse managers. The department is also going the extra mile in its attempts to keep nurses happy once they’re hired. “We conduct surveys regularly while they’re here rather than waiting for them to leave and then doing an exit interview,” explains Cathy Ward D.N.S. ’95, clinical director of nursing.

But the hospital has felt the effects financially. Beefing up recruitment efforts, while necessary, has been expensive. The fierce competition for a limited pool of nurses has resulted in escalating payroll — at UCLA, the most recent package negotiated with the California Nurses Association will raise salaries for staff nurses by more than 25 percent over three years. To fill vacancies, the hospital, like many others around the country, has relied increasingly on traveling nurses — experienced RNs hired through an agency to work three-month stints while the facility tries to fill the position with a permanent employee. “The quality of these nurses is superb,” says Crooks. “But the cost to us is almost double what we would pay if those positions were filled by full-time staff.”

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