COVID-19 has had a detrimental impact on people across the globe. Not only have our personal lives been affected, but our places of work have also changed drastically. In particular, individuals in the nursing field have been highly impacted due to months on the frontlines of the pandemic spent coping with increased work-related stress in an already stressful environment.
Overall, the U.S. healthcare workforce has seen high levels of burnout and stress that have resulted in talent shortages. Experts anticipate these shortages continuing. The topic of nursing shortage was a concern well before the pandemic, but these shortages will most likely be even more profound now. The vacancy rates of nurses have increased and the nursing shortage is set to spread across the country with a suspected shortage of over half a million RNs by the year 2030.1
What’s Causing the Current Nursing Shortage
Many factors are contributing to the growing nursing shortage, including limited nursing school enrollment. Nursing schools struggle to increase capacity due to difficulty finding and retaining qualified professors. Other factors include a rapidly aging nursing workforce which will result in vacancies across the field due to attrition. This trend mirrors the overall increase in age of the U.S. population; an aging population leads to an increased need for care of patients due to age-related commodities and illness. General population increases and also a documented increase in chronic illness has put demands on an already stressed workforce. On top of all of these factors, nurses report multiple quality of life issues due to their profession. Reports of increased stress levels leading to decreased job satisfaction has also been cited as a reason that nurses are leaving the field.2
Troubling Impacts of a Diminished Healthcare Workforce
Consequently these issues are greatly impacting the healthcare system. Lack of nurses available to care for patients has the potential to lead to many negative outcomes, including increased risk for medication or other patient associated errors, increased wait times for inpatient and outpatient visits: including home health, VNA, hospice, and other community accessible services run by nurses. Multiple studies have also correlated increased readmission and mortality rates to inadequate nursing staffing levels. This all adds up to unsafe patient care.2
Strategies for Building the Nursing Workforce
Efforts to rebuild the nursing workforce must begin with education. Allowing high school students to spend a day shadowing nursing professionals is one way to gain interest amount potential candidates. This can help interested individuals learn what a day in the life of a nurse may look like and what the job entails. To garner interest in nursing for those pursuing the profession as a second career, social media advertisements or informative blogs may be helpful for organizations in need. Once nurses have been hired, healthcare systems should strive to be flexible with desired work shifts and can examine offering some part time positions to make the field more appealing to some applicants.
Time and time again, a major reason cited for nurses leaving the bedside is due to overall job stress. Healthcare leaders must be proactive in preventing burnout by employing enough nurses to care adequately for patients and showing those currently employed that they are truly cared for. The past year and a half has been incredibly difficult for nurses; in order to nurture and grow the profession, we must work to show them how grateful we are for their service and dedication.
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- Zhang X, Tai D, Pforsich H, Lin VW. United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast: A Revisit. American Journal of Medical Quality. 2018 May/Jun;33(3):229-236. doi: 10.1177/1062860617738328. Epub 2017 Nov 28. PMID: 29183169.
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Nursing Shortage. September 2020. https://www.aacnnursing.org/news-information/fact-sheets/nursing-shortage
About the Author
Dr. Scarlet Spain is an Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University and a practicing Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner. She has been a Healthcare Consultant with the Medix team since May 2020, supporting our Occupational Health efforts.