The nursing shortage has reached a crisis level in Georgia public health. The primary contributing factors are non-competitive salaries and the loss of personnel to retirements without the capacity to recruit new nurses.
Since 1991, the Office of Nursing within the Georgia Department of Public Health has monitored public health nursing workforce trends, including geographic distribution, education, job classification, and turnover and vacancy data. The Office of Nursing produces annual and semi-annual reports on nursing workforce issues, needs and progress. The Office of Nursing has reviewed the national trends and best practices documented in the literature and convened recruitment and retention task forces to design targeted strategies to improve the current recruitment and retention challenges. The national resources used include the American Nurses Association, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the University of California San Francisco Center for the Health Professions and the Quad Council.
The major factors contributing to the high turnover and vacancy rate trends include non-competitive salaries, the aging workforce and a broader range of competing career choices. Low salaries keep nurses from applying for jobs in public health. Many potential applicants do not complete the application process when they learn about the salary. Surveys and anecdotal information document that job applicants report a salary difference of $10,000 - $25,000 in the rural settings of Georgia as well as in the metropolitan areas of the State. Local public health agencies cannot offer sign-on bonuses and similar incentives offered by other health care employers.
It is projected that as many as 50% of the nurses in county health departments will be retiring within the next 5-10 years.
Frequently, after completing 9-12 months of on-the-job training in public health, many nurses leave for higher salary jobs. The excellent training that public health nurses receive enhances their skills and increases their opportunities to be considered for other positions in the job market.
Heavy workloads and stress from managing complex patient caseloads keep nurses from staying with public health. They find jobs with less stress. Many nurses worry about job security and leave because there have been no raises and because their jobs are at risk due to budget cuts.