We need nurses, this has always been true – but in 2022, we need more nurses. Not one or two more, either. In 2020, we needed over one million nurses in the United States alone and that number has skyrocketed since the COVID pandemic. Past strategies to keep and recruit nurses are simply not working anymore.
COVID exacerbated the nursing shortage, and these shortages then made the pandemic more difficult to manage and control. The quality of patient care goes down and patients suffer when nurses cannot provide adequate care. Hospitals and other healthcare-providing facilities hemorrhage money, too. Morbidity, errors, and mortality increase when nurses are not available. We need nurses; addressing the shortage will save and improve the quality of human lives.
Where are the Nurses?
Three out of ten nurses left their job as part of the Great Resignation, but the shortage is only going to get worse in the future. The median age of nurses currently is 52. This is not the average, it’s the median – more nurses are over the age of 52 than are under. Within a few years, a huge number of these nurses will be retiring and while they absolutely deserve to take this next step in life, it is going to leave the workforce barren.
People still want to become nurses, but very few institutions offer nursing programs and the ones that do have long waiting lists. You can’t just walk into a classroom and start working towards a career in nursing – it takes extensive amounts of time, studying, and money.
Then, once nurses graduate and finally make it into the field, they often get burned out quickly. This is a top reason nurses are leaving the profession in record numbers. Almost one in five nurses leave within their first year, both due to the overwhelming conditions due to the current nursing shortage and the threat of a future nursing shortage even worse than we are seeing now.
Nurses are expected from day one to hit the floor and perform as well as veterans and these expectations create a lot of strain on the new nurses who haven’t had much practice in the field. They get frustrated and leave. When they leave, other nurses have to pick up more hours to cover the gap. This cycle will continue until we make changes.
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What Healthcare Can do to Help
To reduce burnout, decrease errors, increase patient satisfaction, and improve the retention rate for nurses, the healthcare industry must first remember that nurses are human beings. Nurses are mothers, husbands, sons, and friends – and they need to be treated as such. Healthcare institutions must be more cognizant of their nurses’ well-being. Then, they have to be intentional and make it part of their culture to offer support. Nurses take care of us every day. Leaders in healthcare have to do the same in return for the nurses.
Understanding how to care for nurses begins with having honest conversations. My company asked over 1,000 nurses on our staff what benefits would appeal most to them. We found out that most of them were interested in having increased flexibility. Other industries have adapted to the “new normal” and given their staff more options. Meanwhile, nurses are being told to show up on a normal routine. If we can offer even a morsel of flexibility, our nurses will enjoy their jobs more and we can reduce the rate of burnout.
Restructuring organizational cultures in healthcare facilities can help provide more support for staff. Allowing bedside nurses to be part of the conversation regarding what is acceptable nurse-patient ratios instead of just managers and executives is essential. Too many institutions are not using resources to bridge the gap when they experience shortages. Supplemental staffing companies are just one option and I have personally seen how this option can help facilities deliver better patient care. Leaders need to take initiative to explore these and other innovative solutions to support their nurses and create healthier working environments The end result will be improved nursing practices that are characterized by a high degree of safety, quality, and overall satisfaction among patients.
Recruiting New Nurses
Educational institutions also play a role in alleviating the nursing shortage. The top solutions finding success today boil down to one word: accessibility. Making education more accessible will put more nurses in healthcare facilities and keep them there longer.
The traditional nursing program is four years long, but it doesn’t have to be. Accelerated nursing programs allow students to focus solely on nursing-based information and enter the workforce in less time. We need to support and expand these programs, and we must make them cost-effective.
Accelerated programs move fast, but so does the healthcare industry. We need to keep up with the fast-paced changes in education. In recent years, we’ve created gamified solutions to learning that work. We’ve integrated interactive learning that works and I’ve seen companies find great success deploying VR and AR eLearning in the healthcare space. If more companies could adopt these educational solutions, more nurses would be able to practice from anywhere. Accessible, innovative education is key to preparing a new generation of confident nurses who will alleviate the massive nursing shortage.
At the end of the day, ending the nursing shortage comes down to caring. Healthcare facilities need to show they care by addressing why nurses are really leaving their jobs. Education facilities need to provide more support for incoming nurses and people looking to go into nursing. I believe if we ensure the nurses feel empowered, valued, and supported, it will be much easier for them to pass that same courtesy to their patients. We need to care for those who care.