The Future of Nursing: Seeking Solutions to the Nursing Shortage

Published on 22/01/2024 by admin

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Last modified 22/01/2024

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There’s one question that’s at the forefront of every healthcare professional’s mind – is there a solution to the nursing shortage in the United States? 

The nursing profession continues to face a national shortage that has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. There are a myriad of issues in the nursing field, from inequity in the workplace and lack of education to high turnover and the current workforce aging up.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 275,000 additional nurses will be needed from 2020 to 2030 to keep up with demand. They also predict that while there is a nursing shortage, the role is expected to grow faster than any other occupation from 2016 to 2026 at a rate of 9%—however, demand may not be enough to save the future. 

Creating more job opportunities in nursing will attract younger people to the industry, especially with attractive salaries. However, that won’t stop the huge turnover and burnout that the field of nursing is currently facing. Core issues such as bad workplace environments and overworking staff need to be addressed and fixed if they want to fix the root of the issue, instead of placing a band-aid as a temporary, short-term fix.

Aging workforce and retirement

Did you know that across the United States, the average age of a nurse is 44 years old? That puts a vast majority of the nurse population only 10 to 15 years away from retirement age. The nursing workforce is losing a sizable part of its population every year due to old age, and it’s only been increasing since COVID-19.

According to a survey done in 2020 by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, among the 4 million registered nurses currently active across the country—more than one-fifth intended to retire in the next five years.

The number of nurses leaving due to retirement also has a strong impact on training more nurses. There will be fewer staff and resources, leading to fewer nurses graduating from school every year. A solution to this could be the government or schools providing incentives for the newer workforce generation to work in the profession, and providing bonuses for nurses moving to into educator roles.

Solving nurse burnout

Burnout is a form of exhaustion that can happen in any field, but it was reported in a 2020 survey that almost two-thirds of nurses in the US experience it. Feeling burnt out is one of the leading factors of someone quitting their job, and it can be caused by a range of different factors. Typically, it has to do with feeling overworked, undervalued, and caused by excessive mental or physical stress.

While some causes of burnout are inherent to the role of being a nurse and providing passionate care, others are systemic issues in the healthcare system. For example, the shortage of nurses itself has caused longer hours and placed greater stress on nurses during their shifts.

The pandemic was also an eye-opener for the moral and emotional stress nurses and other healthcare professionals go through. Witnessing patients passing away and having to provide emotional support when families couldn’t. Recent statistics found that around 100,000 nurses left the profession due to pandemic-related burnout and emotional stress.

So, what’s the solution for nurse burnout? Burnout is a serious issue that can lead to physical and mental distress. Hospitals or clinics where nurses work could manage burnout better by providing resources and care for their employees, including mental health support. There also needs to be better regulations and rules regarding the long hours and inconsistent shifts that nurses are currently performing.

Starting careers and family

Currently, over 80% of nurses are female in the United States, with most of them around the age that they’re starting a family or already have one. While it isn’t the biggest contributor, it still adds to the nurse shortage problem. It’s common for nurses in their childbearing years to go on maternity leave, cut back on the job due to the stress, or leave entirely. 

There isn’t an easy solution for this, except for healthcare organizations to look at ways they can better increase the retention rate for staff, improve burnout, and make nursing much more desirable for people to come back to.

Safer workplace environments

Workplace violence and abuse against healthcare workers are a serious issue, leading to burnout, nurses feeling unsafe, and ultimately leaving the industry. The incidence rate for nursing and personal care workers sits at 21.8 (out of 10,000) for injuries resulting from assaults and violent acts from other persons.

There was a study done in a tertiary care hospital in the United States, which shows 34.4% of healthcare workers reported either verbal or physical workplace violence. Healthcare organizations need to improve security in the workplace and provide better support for staff that experience workplace violence.

Can technology help?

We’re living in a digital age, so it’s worth asking the question – could technology and going digital help with the nursing shortage? Through the use of technology, the workload for nurses could be cut down if patient documentation went completely digital.

Currently, many healthcare organizations still rely on using paper documentation that requires manual handling. Moving patient systems and data to be completely digital could reduce the time nurses need to handle paperwork and improve the quality of patient handover. While technology isn’t a fix-all solution for the nurse shortage, it can lead to less burnout by alleviating some of the workload.

Looking ahead

The nursing shortage in the United States isn’t a problem that can be fixed with a single solution. There are multiple challenges that nurses and the healthcare industry as a whole are facing, from being understaffed, lacking resources, and providing proper support to employees struggling to deal with the workload or emotional stress.

With the ever-rising demand for nurses as the population ages in America, it is not enough to just increase job opportunities and salary. There need to be systemic changes implemented to improve healthcare systems, how they treat their employees, and the workload nurses are currently having to face.