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Backus & Degree: Nurses are Valued and Needed

April 21, 2022

Here in the Green Mountain State and across the country, more nurses have left their jobs in the past two years than at any other time in recent history. The reasons are varied, but certainly include the physical and emotional toll the pandemic response has taken on nurses so vital to our health care system. Chief among the lessons we have learned from this once in a century global health crisis is that we must invest in Vermont’s health care workforce if we are going to manage the avalanche of needs of our aging population and the growing mental health challenges for our communities.

Governor Phil Scott’s budget proposal supports nurses living, working, and teaching in Vermont. It includes $3 million in scholarships for prospective nurses, $2 million to assist nurses with loan repayments, and a $1,000 income tax credit for those working and living here as a nurse or nurse educator. 

As the Legislature finalizes the workforce development bill (H.703), it should support our nurses with these targeted initiatives. New research shows that the recent decrease in nurses stems primarily from younger nurses leaving the field rather than those who are over the age of 50. That’s why the scholarships and loan repayment programs are particularly important to encourage more nurses to enter the workforce; if you’re a younger person choosing a profession in healthcare, you likely have significant tuition bills and loans to pay-off.

A one-stop-shop for nurses and healthcare workers to find the financial help available for their education is also imperative. The options for financial assistance are a patchwork that can be hard to navigate. As outlined in our recent Health Care Workforce Development Strategic Plan, information and resources for financial assistance must be easier to access.

Recently, we have been talking with nurses and soon-to-be nurses to understand what motivates them to be in Vermont, and why some decide to live and work in another state. We’ve learned that Vermont’s health care culture is kind and positive. The traveling staff that have worked alongside Vermont’s permanent nursing workforce have observed that the staff-to-patient ratios are better than in many states. This is a culture and system of care that is a credit to our permanent nursing workforce, and one we need to support and grow.

As nurses anchor the health care system with care and compassion, they face the same issues that many working Vermonters face: in many parts of the state, access to affordable housing can be difficult, and childcare services – especially for the long hours a nurse and nursing student may need to cover – can come with a hefty cost. Add to that transportation, paying for rent, heat, and food, and it is no surprise that many in the nursing workforce have told us that their financial situation is their main consideration when picking a place to live, despite all that our beautiful state has to offer.

We also know that many Vermonters want to become nurses, but we don’t have enough nurse educators to meet the demand. One reason for this scarcity is because nurses who are teachers make a lower income than those delivering direct care.  The proposed $1,000 tax credit is available to nurse educators to help bolster the education pipeline and ultimately bring new nurses into our healthcare system.

In addition to the targeted incentives detailed here, the Governor’s proposed budget recognizes that housing and childcare are foundational for economic development. Vermont simply cannot compete for a workforce that has no good place to live, nor options for childcare. Taken together, broad investments in Vermont’s workforce and economy combined with targeted incentives will help support and expand the nursing workforce. For the health of our state, the legislature should act now to include these proposals in the budget and in the workforce development bill.

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