An Admirable Goal: The Wrong Method

Consider this: In the San Francisco area, a nurse with a bachelor’s degree can hope to start out with a salary of $104,000. The salary for a nursing professor with a Ph.D. at University of California San Francisco starts at about $60,000.

This goes a long way toward explaining why nursing schools turned away 42,000 qualified applications in 2006-2007—even as U.S. hospitals scramble to find nurses.

We need more nurses. Let’s raise the salary. Hey, we still don’t have enough nurses! We’re paying a great salary, why don’t we have enough nurses?

This is the discussion going on in recruiting meetings at hospitals in San Francisco. (I have no knowledge of salaries in other places, as I am not a nurse and I do not work in this particular field.)

The solution, it appears, is to raise, not the salaries of the nurses, but the salaries of the instructors. And hire more of them. And train more nurses–42,000 people wanted to be nurses and were turned away. And we still don’t have enough nurses.

This is a problem that faces many areas. We need more people to do X, but there is a limited supply of people available to do X. So, we pay more money, but without people to teach others, there is still a limited supply. Business’s (or hospital’s) hands are tied. Right?

I’m not quite sure how this can apply to nurses–haven’t thought it completely through–but here’s an interesting solution: The Saint John Fisher Wegmans School of Pharmacy

In January 2005, the College announced that Robert B. Wegman, Chairman of Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., donated $5 million to be used for the creation of the Wegmans School of Pharmacy. The School, which opened in the Fall of 2006 with an inaugural class of 55 students, is the first of its kind in Monroe County and the fifth in the State of New York.

For two years, Fisher explored the viability of establishing a School of Pharmacy to help alleviate the projected shortfall of qualified pharmacists for the communities and hospitals in Central and Western New York.

Oh, how nice, you say. Mr. Wegman was being noble and good in getting more pharmacists into the community. Right? Noble. Good. Not at all self interested. Right? Well, wrong.

Note he is chairman of Wegmans Food Markets, inc. (Or rather, he was. He died a while ago. His son, Danny, is now the head of the business.) What does this grocery store chain happen to have inside it? Drum roll please…Pharmacies! And where are the bulk of it’s stores located? Central and Western New York!

Rather than fret about the lack of pharmacists, this company did something about it. Now, granted, it would have been cheaper to just continue to pay pharmacists more and more money and try to steal them from competitors. But, companies like to do charitable things, so Mr. Wegman directed his money in a way that helped the community and his business.

Talk about thinking outside of the box.

Plus, I’m sure he got a nice tax deduction.

(hat tip: Kevin, MD)

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9 thoughts on “An Admirable Goal: The Wrong Method

  1. That $104,000 a year may sound lucrative but believe me, those nurses are earning every penny of it. I believe that instructors should get paid more. Here’s the problem. Nurses stay in the field an average of 7 years before they quit, due to burn-out, stress,shift work and lack of professional respect. A professional field cannot survive when you have talented people jumping ship to other opportunities after only 7 years.To alleviate this so-called shortage , you need to change the culture of myopic thinking within the ranks of hospital administration.You simply can’t throw money at the problem. Forget the recruiting meetings. Get out and talk to nurses on the floor. Ask them what they think the solution is.(if there not too busy to talk)

  2. I’m not, by the way, saying, that $104,000 is an unreasonable salary. I’m saying that continuing to raise nursing salaries without creating any new nurses isn’t going to solve your problem.

    And absolutely, talk to the nurses on the floor about what they need. That’s the first thing a good HR person will do–understand the actual job.

  3. Shoot I’d love to make $104k per year. Of course in San Fran that doesn’t go very far!

    This post reminds me of what goes through my head every time I see a commercial for certain schools that teach certain trades and boast they have instructors that “have worked in the profession”. If the trade is so lucrative and fabulous, then why are so many teachers ex-(fill in the blank)? Because they couldn’t make money at it? They burned out? Hmm.

  4. Provocative post, oh Evil One! Terry has hit on something important. Money is an important part of the mix for both nurses and nurse instructors, but I wonder if there would be such a shortage if nurses got better working conditions and a bit of respect. That’s important because most nurses I’ve met didn’t go into the field for the money. In fact, when they were making career choices they didn’t think much about money.

  5. greetings evil one! as someone who spends way too much time in the hospital (a big well known one one in oakland,not kaiser or a county hosp – hint, they just went on a brief strike!) in the east bay, located in the sf bay area), and i LOVE nurses and what they do, how they do it, because i see what they have to go thru, and what they have, or not, to work with. it’s just sad. i was there for chemo just before the strike and they all said just what wally bock said – it’s not about the money! right now, many of them have serious issues with the fact that there are so many ‘travelers’, the nurses that are brought in from other states and countries to fill in the gaps. but my real question is – why aren’t the nurse instructors/teachers saying anything? is this the only or real reason why we have such a shortage?

  6. Wally–I think (and my expertise is obtained from obsessively reading med blogs) that a lot of nurses would choose more competent nurses over more money.

    (Not that anyone ever turns down more money, mind you.) It’s just that even $104,000 a year isn’t enough to keep you forever when you are completely overworked.

  7. hr wench–keep in mind that teaching is very different than doing.

    My dream job would be straight teaching/training. For instance, right now I train people on how to conduct layoffs, but I don’t have to tell anyone they are laid off! Much less stressful to teach the class than it is to be the actual notifier.

  8. For the second time in a few weeks, you reference my hometown! I am amused, especially since my Dad is getting his master’s degree at St. John Fisher.

    Regarding the Wegmans, the family has always given money to build things like stadiums and field houses for schools around town. It was inevitable that they would build a school. After all, they will always live in George Eastman’s shadow in Rochester philanthropy unless they build schools. (Eastman built the school of music at the University of Rochester, which is one of the top conservatories in the country.)

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