Nursing shortages have been an issue for decades, but when a global pandemic hit, we realized exactly how dire the shortage was.
Nurses have long been unsung heroes, and the pandemic was no exception. In many ways, they became the backbone of the healthcare industry. We don’t want to find ourselves in the midst of another health crisis without qualified and competent nurses- thus, we must solve this problem.
Many short-term solutions have been implemented over the years to solve nursing shortages- and, as expected, they only worked for a short amount of time. We need a long-term solution, and that means addressing the underlying causes of the nursing shortage.
There are barriers preventing people from wanting to become nurses, and a band-aid solution won’t solve this larger issue. Let’s take a look at the elements of entering the nursing field that deter potential candidates and how nursing can become a more enticing option.
Let’s be real: studying is expensive. One option that has been explored by multiple governments is offering partial or full financial support to those studying nursing. An accelerated bachelor of science in nursing in the USA can cost anywhere between $40,000 to $80,000- this is simply not attainable for a large portion of the population.
The solution? Offering alternative options. Making education more affordable does not have to mean fully subsidizing college for nursing students. It can be as simple as encouraging students to utilize technology and study online, removing a lot of the financial commitment that comes with attending college and living on campus. Recommending the best online ABSN programs to potential nurses means they can study from home for a much smaller tuition fee.
Another barrier: geographical location. Plenty of caring and passionate potential nurses live abroad and would welcome the opportunity to use their skills in the USA. There are even future nurses in the States who live in areas that are predicted to have a surplus of nurses by 2030, including Vermont, Rhode Island and West Virginia. The promise of a free relocation may be the push someone needs to take the plunge and enter the field of nursing.
In a 2021 survey, twenty-two per cent of nurses indicated that they may leave their positions. A further survey in 2023 produced even more concerning results: Thirty-one per cent of nurses were considering leaving their jobs.
These are not promising odds, and it is necessary to look at the reason nurses are so dissatisfied with their careers. Retaining nurses is crucial, and is more affordable than training new nursing staff.
Nurses work a physically and emotionally demanding job, often working long hours. They were on the frontline of the pandemic. They are important members of the healthcare system- and yet they are often left feeling undervalued, overworked, drained and stressed. Inflexible hours, lack of work-life balance, inadequate pay, unsafe working environment, being undervalued by management or organizations, and negative or traumatic interactions and experiences on the job were all cited as reasons for dissatisfaction.
If work continues to be a hostile environment for nurses, chances are they will seek work elsewhere. In order to retain our current nurses we must change the way they are treated.
Making their mental and physical health a priority should be part of the fabric of the nursing industry. Making sure they have adequate breaks, mental health support, recognition for their hard work and, of course, better financial compensation are all part of a solution.
Ex-nurses who left the field due to dissatisfaction are not going to come back unless things change. A widespread survey of previous nurses to find out what they want from their careers would benefit greatly, as would offering retraining to any nurse who wants to come back to work after spending some time away.
A staggering number of nurses leave the job in the first year. They have made it clear what they want. It is the job of those on the top rung to ensure that any returning nurses stay in the field with adequate paychecks, reduced stressors and fulfillment from their work.
Nursing isn’t all bad- in fact, it’s one of the best jobs, and thousands dream of becoming nurses for very good reason. Those who fell in love with nursing before had their dreams crushed by certain aspects of the job, but it is always possible for them to come back to nursing.
Nurses need resources, and not just physically. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, safe, and satisfied at work.
Nurses experience burnout, anxiety, depression and fatigue disproportionately to other careers. Their work experiences would be made better with access to free or affordable counseling, adequate mental health days and sick days, somewhere safe to relax during breaks at work, ability to communicate openly with their employer and colleagues and a sense of belonging.
Improving the work environment for nurses means more nurses- and that means a happier, healthier world for everyone. Nursing has been around for hundreds of years. Let’s hope it sticks around for hundreds of years more.