Keeping the trains running on time is essential for every hospital, clinic, and any other healthcare setting. Oftentimes, it’s nurses who make sure things run smoothly and patients get the care they need. But picking up all of the slack, combined with many other factors, is wearing on nurses and eventually loading to nursing shortages.
There’s been a nursing shortage for decades, but the situation is worsening. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how burnt out nurses and other healthcare professionals are. Many of them have already left the healthcare industry, but estimates suggest we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Up until 2019, the nursing shortage seemed to be improving. The demand for nurses and the number of nurses in the profession were getting closer and closer, but things shifted dramatically. A statement by US News indicated the number of practicing nurses started declining in 2019 before sharply decreasing in 2020. This is likely due to the increased pressure and burnout healthcare workers experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues still.
In 2021, the number of practicing nurses began to increase, but we’re far from recovering from the shortage. According to Fierce Healthcare, 34% of nurses planned to leave their roles by the end of 2022—nearly a third of which plan to leave the nursing profession behind.
Increasing the number of career nurses in the healthcare system should be a priority for all stakeholders in the industry. Before they can make effective change, though, they’ll need to analyze the reasons nurses are leaving and the support they need to increase retention.
A career in nursing is especially stressful compared to other career paths. In addition to being involved in life and death situations everyday, the demands of nursing are especially taxing. Juggling the mental and physical responsibilities of caring for multiple patients at once is a heavy load to bear—and it often leads to nurse burnout and nurse shortage.
Nurses are often responsible for remembering patient medications, flagging doctor’s orders that may harm a patient, moving patients, helping them with activities of daily living, and more. And they also navigate office politics and interact with patient families on top of that.
The nursing shortage amplifies all of these stressors, as nurses in facilities without enough staff have to take on heavier caseloads and other responsibilities. But this is often to the detriment of their patients—reducing quality of care, decreasing compassionate care, and increasing errors in the healthcare setting.
When a healthcare facility experiences a nursing shortage, someone has to pick up the slack. Since nurses are licensed staff, there aren’t many people who can pitch in when necessary. So remaining staff are often spread thin with additional shifts and travel nurses take contracts to fill in the remaining gaps.
According to Fierce Healthcare, almost half of nurses who planned to change jobs in 2022 wanted to because of the issues they faced as a result of staffing and patient care. And among nurses who pursued new nursing roles in the last two years, 31% did so for a better work schedule and 25% for improved staffing—likely gaining better work-life balance in the process.
Salary for nurses varies widely based on experience, location, and nursing specialty. However, the consensus for many nurses is that their pay doesn’t match their value. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for registered nurses is $77,600. But many nurses earn much less than this, leading to them leaving the industry and becoming a factor to nursing shortages.
Compensation for nurses varies widely between states. Nurses in Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Dakota can expect to average less than $65,000 each year, while those in Washington, Massachusetts, Alaska, DC, and Oregon average between $95,000 and $99,000. The highest paid nurses make in excess of $100,000 in Hawaii and California.
While these numbers sound promising, it’s disheartening for nurses making these wages while travel nurses can rake in over $5,000 a week on average in some areas of California, New York, and other competitive markets.
Stories of nurse abuse are a dime a dozen. Two nurses are physically assaulted every hour in the United States, and that doesn’t include mental, verbal, or emotional abuse. Patients, colleagues, supervisors—nurses experience abuse and a lack of respect from all directions.
Conditions like these aren’t accepted in most other professions, but nurses are among some of the least respected workers despite their immense value and need. Nurse.org states one fourth of nurses have been on the receiving end of a violent attack from a patient, so it’s not surprising that this is a factor in the present nursing shortage.
Many nurses are fed up with the lack of protection and support they receive at work. According to Fierce Healthcare, 65% of nurses who planned to leave their role by the end of 2022 had experienced physical or verbal abuse from a patient or a patient’s family member in the preceding year.
It takes a special kind of person to become a nurse. Even without the conditions that are making nurses reconsider their career choices, it’s a very difficult profession to pursue. Nursing programs are highly competitive and rigorous. The last thing the healthcare system needs is to repel the highly intelligent individuals who make it through these grueling academic experiences.
Healthcare facilities across the nation should listen to nurses and improve conditions to get ahead of the worsening shortage of nurses. They can start by implementing some policies and standard operating procedures to ease the pressure nurses are experiencing:
Being a travel nurse with Advantis Medical is a different experience than at other agencies. Our dedicated staff prioritize our nurses’ wellbeing and provide them with support whenever necessary. If an Advantis Medical travel nurse has a concern, they can easily reach someone on our support staff.
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