Science

Nurse shortage leads to burnout, low morale. What can be done?

Nurses are considered the backbone of the American health care system, but there is an unprecedented shortage. The US needs more than 200,000 new registered nurses each year by 2030 to meet demand.

Caitlin Hall, a nurse at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, said she loves her job but the past few years haven’t been easy.

“I think people are really tired,” Hall said. “We’ve been relying on a lot of overtime over the years to really kind of fill the holes on the unit.”

Travel nurses are one solution, but it comes at a cost to morale and the bottom line because they are offered more money than nurses on staff.

Linda Talley, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Children’s National, said it’s a challenge.

“This drove market prices to a level that is clearly unsustainable,” Tally said. “What we’re seeing now over time is that it’s starting to come down a little bit. We’d love to invest in our employees.”

Morale called “Wax and Vanes” among his employees, Talley said.

“At the beginning of the pandemic we all kept saying to ourselves, like, ‘When will we get back to normal?'” she said. “We now realize that normal is a thing of the past.”

According to NSI Nursing Solutions Inc., one out of five registered nursing jobs are open nationwide.

Meanwhile, nursing schools are turning away thousands of students because there isn’t enough faculty to teach them.

On many days, some nurses don’t even have time to take a break for lunch.

“It’s a job where you have to be there when people need you,” said Hayley Roper, a nurse at Children’s National. “You can’t just, you know, say, ‘Please stop.'”

Tally says there needs to be a “care model redesign”.

“One idea we’re talking about right now, for example, is virtual nursing,” Talley said. “What about a nurse who might otherwise be thinking of reducing her hours or transitioning into retirement. Instead, can we take her expertise, connect her via an iPad to a nurse who is at the bedside?” But, need another set of eyes?”

Some hospitals are offering shorter shifts – making them eight hours instead of 12. Others have increased pay and offered bonuses or helped pay off student loans.

“In this economy right now, cost-of-living issues are taking a toll on our new nurse graduates like I haven’t seen in my 34 years,” Talley said.

Other solutions include hiring more international nurses, increasing funding to add more slots to nursing schools, and mentoring from an early age.

“I mean elementary school,” said Tally. “We have a program that allows us to go into high schools, for example, and start identifying those who want to pursue careers in nursing.”

Resolving the crisis also requires changing the narrative. Nursing is a tough job, but as Hall said, it is gratifying.

“You get all the benefits of just feeling rewarded and feeling like you’re doing something good,” Hall said. “I think it’s been incredible to have redefining moments like those.”

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