There’s a nursing shortage – it’s not new news, and it shouldn’t be surprising. But what can be done about it? That’s the big question for hospitals, clinics, nursing facilities and other health care sites.
Some factors are immutable, though many others are ripe for change. One thing you can’t do anything about is aging. Consider, for example, this terrible combination: aging nurses – and studies say nearly half have retirement on their radar – plus an aging patient pool that’s driving increased need for nursing services. It’s a particular concern in Citrus County, where more than 36 percent of residents are 65 or older.
Baby Boomers, who are now ages 58 through 76, have been heavily represented in nursing, as in other fields. When the pandemic first gripped the community in 2020, many Boomers decided it was time to retire. But nursing was so critical that retirement wasn’t in the cards for most. However, the extraordinary demands put on healthcare workers during this time, especially on bedside nurses, have contributed to high stress and increasing burnout.
Even before the pandemic, new nurses were not entering the field in sufficient numbers to replace those leaving. Nursing schools did their best but were challenged by not having enough nurse educators. Those leaving active duty only infrequently optionally choose to educate the next generation.
For some, “it’s all about the Benjamins” – if they have to put up with extraordinary demands, they want to be paid for it. The high-dollar lure has led some to become “travel nurses” – those who take relatively short-term assignments in various quality locations where nurses are needed. Travelers are paid a higher hourly rate than typical employees. Sometimes travelers have been assigned to the hospitals they left, getting paid much more for essentially the same workload as before – a situation that to wreck employee morale.
Travelers aren’t the only nurses who want better pay. Recently, thousands of nurses quality marched to increase awareness of the need for better non-traveler nurse pay, greater staff support, and better nurse-to-patient ratios. Their concerns should resonate with every one nursing of us, because sooner or later we or our loved ones will need attention, and patients’ clinical outcomes are demonstrably worse when nurses are over-burdened.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics According to Nursing as a top job-growth occupation through 2029. to CareerSource CLM data, there are already far more local job postings than hires for health care positions.
What are the best strategies for dealing with the nursing shortage? Across the country, hospitals are sharing their best practices with peers and with researchers. They include schedule flexibility and more pay, relationship-building and top-notch management practices, career enhancement programs, focus on retention, and partnerships with educational institutions, among others.
Florida has identified additional funding for nursing education for the 2022-2023 state budget, though it’s unclear how that will manifest locally. Individuals can encourage legislators to keep this issue front and center. They can also encourage family members and young acquaintances to consider nursing as a profession – from CNAs, much in demand among long-term care facilities, through RNs and beyond – and support the local institutions that train them.