The nurse staffing shortage and potential solutions
In recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the shortage of healthcare professionalshas pushed the resources of the health system in the US to the limit. Worrying headlines of overflowinghospitals, oversubscribed appointment lists, and patients struggling with timely access to healthcare are a common sight.
This issue is particularly acute among nurses, with various studies indicating that many nurses in frontline positions are considering leaving their current posts. Concurrently, we also know that there are millions of highly trained nursing professionals out there, and that their enthusiasm to help patients has never been stronger. So, what can be done to tackle this issue?
This article will examine the reasons for the staffing issues in the nursing profession and healthcare in general and explore possible solutions. In addition, it will also look at the career path of nurses and how they can contribute to providing a greater level of care. Finally, this article will explain the key role that experience and lifelong learning play in the life of a nurse, and how nurses can help improve conditions by taking up key leadership roles.
Struggling to keep up
It is rare for a year in the US to pass without talk of some kind of nurse staffing crisis. Furthermore, there is no question that the current situation in thepublic healthspaceis serious and a genuine cause of concern for both healthcare providers and the general public. A relative lack of staff not only places even more pressure on the nursing staff themselves, who in many cases are already overworked, but also makes it harder for healthcare providers to offer a full range of services. Naturally, this can also severely affect the level of care provided to patients.
While these kinds of issues tend to impact hospitals in particular – where there is naturally high demand for urgent treatment and staff pressure is arguably at its highest –other institutions are also noticeably affected by nursing staff shortages. The presence of qualified nurses is essential to the provision of all kinds of healthcare, from family doctors and primary healthcare clinics to psychiatric facilities and even drug rehabilitation centers.
The impact of COVID-19 and rising demand
The recent COVID-19 pandemic is partially responsible for this. The impact it had on people’s health, in combination with the strict epidemiological measures that were put in place, created almost unimaginable pressure and strain for nurses. Nurses dealing with a once-in-a-generation pandemic faced not only several waves of sickness in the general population, but also needed to operate under the strictest epidemiological guidelines to prevent further contagion. In addition, they also often faced huge staff shortages that were further exacerbated by the need for any medical staff testing positive for COVID-19 to isolate at home. In addition, many staff also faced skepticism and even abuse from patients, with the emotions around the pandemic often reaching fever pitch.
Additionally, experts assert that the staffing shortage of nurses is not only in the US but in many developed and developing countries around the world and is both chronic and escalating. One major factoris rising demand. In any country with an aging population, pressure will inevitably be applied to healthcare services.
On average,older people tend to require more healthcare and a higher level of healthcare than younger people. Furthermore, in psychiatric care, for example greater awareness of the importance of mental health and increased acceptance means that more people are seeking help. While this is undoubtedly a positive trend, this rise in numbers does place greater strain on health professionals working in this area.
Recruitment cannot keep pace
It is extremely hard for society, the governing forces, or even individual healthcare providers to do too much to combat the issues of demand. Generally, people seek out medical attention because they have a specific issue that must be dealt with. In many cases, failing to do so is not a realistic or attractive option and may only lead to more serious issues later. However, there are also other reasons related to the lack of nurses – not to mention other healthcare professionals – where solutions are more readily available.
One major issue that contributes to nursing staff shortages is that recruitment is struggling to keep up with demand. While there are still many thousands of prospective nurses enrolling to be trained every year in the US, this is not enough to keep up with the increased demand in combination with the fact that many nurses are either retiring or approaching the age of retirement. Even worse, there is also a shortage of adequate training and education facilities, with many nursing school applicants turned away due to a lack of qualified teaching staff, available clinical study sites, and budget constraints.
Falling job satisfaction levels
On top of these issues, there is also manystaff in the nursing profession who are currently considering either leaving their current position or leaving the field of nursing altogether. A recent survey by McKinsey found that more than40% of nurses in frontline positions were considering leaving their current position. These intentions are borne out by the fact that the turnover for nurses in these positions increased from 18% in 2020 to 23% in 2022.
In terms of personal dissatisfaction or frustration, 74% of nurses who were thinking of leaving their position reported being burned out, more than half cited poor working conditions and inadequate pay, and just over a third mentioned lack of appreciation as a major factor. Naturally, this dissatisfaction and subsequent staff shortages induce their own vicious circle – the fewer nurses there are to work in a particular department, the greater the strain and discontent of those that remain.
What can be done
So, what can health providers and policy makers do to improve retention of nurses and attract new people to the profession? One potential solution is to provide greater flexibility and work-life balance to nurses, something that is consistently ranked as one of the most important elements by nurses in relation to their job. Nurses also tend to highly value meaning and acknowledgement in their work. Though there is no one-size-fits all magic solution, health providers should be aware that providing recognition, open communication, more fixed time off, and introducing more flexible schedules can all make a difference.
In addition, the possibility for career advancement is another potential response. Perhaps one positive sign is that many of these staff remain deeply committed to nursing. Rather than leave the profession entirely, they instead seek out an alternative position that offers more advantageous conditions or look to increase their level of specialism. This is a smart step for anyone looking to improve salary and working conditions while challenging themselves for the next stage of their career.
Reacting to the situation
For those with a passion for helping people but who have an issue with their current position and are looking for an alternative within the nursing profession, there are several options available.One particularly popular option is to become a nurse practitioner (NP). This is an advanced level nurse who in addition to regular nursing duties, is permitted to carry out a range of additional duties, including diagnosing disease, prescribing medicine, and designing complex treatment plans in many states.
This may be a smart career choice, particularly as qualifying as an NP usually enables nurses to take on a higher level of responsibility, perform more varied tasks, and enjoy greater flexibility. The opportunities for career advancement and better pay are also notable. Though there are several different specialties available, the two most popular choices are to work in either family medicine or mental health. As a result, most prospective NPs typically graduate towards qualifying as either a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP).
Making the right choice
The next question is: FNP or PMHNP – which is better for you? While there are many factors to consider, most prospective students are influenced by the path they have taken in healthcare so far. Their experience, be it positive or negative, in providing healthcare for families or in mental health facilities will determine their choice. Naturally, personal experience in these areas can also be a factor, while it also depends on the skills and abilities of the individual nurse and in which area they believe they could be most effectively utilized. Whatever the reason, the best nurse practitioners have a clear passion for their chosen field.
Today, there are numerous courses available for nurses interested in making this transition. Many of these degrees are also specifically designed for people who are already in full or part-time employment, with flexible schedules and online learning. If a nurse chooses to complete an FNP or PMHNP at Marymount University, for example, they can complete the entire course online, with field placements arranged locally, meaning there is no need to relocate from the current place of residence. By completing a Master of Science in Nursing as an FNP, graduates will emerge with a full understanding of key topics, including care delivery, leadership, and population health. A Master of Science in Nursing as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (MSN-PMHNP), on the other hand, equips graduates to provide advanced care for diverse populations, integrate evidence-based practice, and design preventative strategies.
A lifelong path
Experience can also be a crucial and positive factor in a nurse’s career. Though burnout can easily happen to experienced nurses too, there is no question that facing something as severe and daunting as a pandemic – or perhaps a general severe staffing crisis in a busy hospital – is somewhat easier for someone who has worked in the nursing profession for a great deal of time. Conversely, it can be particularly hard to deal with for someone who is relatively inexperienced.
In addition, lifelong learning can be a valuable tool for maintaining and heightening job satisfaction while coping with the many difficulties and pressures of nursing. Though formal higher education qualifications have obvious advantages, many nurses also benefit from training courses and mentoring sessions. Private reading and exploration can also be helpful, while peer-to-peer conversations are a simple but effective method of sharing knowledge and developing a deeper level of understanding and cooperation between colleagues.
The importance of nurses as leaders
The shortages of nurses in the US is a concern for the public, healthcare professionals, and politicians alike. From the pressure of the recent pandemic to difficult working conditions and an aging population, the causes are myriad and the solutions complex. One potentialsolution, however, may lay with the nurses themselves. While physicians and administrators have traditionally been the most dominant forces in the development of healthcare systems, nurses canalso develop their skillset and level of knowledge to the highest possible level. This will help them assume positions of greater responsibility and leadership, thus enabling them to shape the future of healthcare in the US. By helping to shape the healthcare environment, nurses will also positively influence the future of the nursing profession.
For individual nurses, it’s important to prepare for a future where staff shortages remain an issue and understand the pressures of the role. For those who really do want to help others, the clearest path to greater job satisfaction lies not in leaving the nursing profession altogether, but in seeking out new challenges and positions. Formal education, lifelong learning, and experience can play a vital role in this realization, and these greater challenges can also lead to a more rewarding career path and a brighter future for healthcare.