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Why Is There a Nursing Staff Shortage?

Ben Henson
June 27, 2022

Nursing Staff Shortages: Why Is There a Shortage of Healthcare Workers

Nursing shortages have been in the headlines since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus took a toll on healthcare workers, who were often in danger of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. Nurses and other healthcare workers needing to isolate themselves at home during their illness contributed to an ongoing staffing shortage.

In addition, the pandemic illuminated more universal issues in nursing. Nurses face obstacles like low job satisfaction, poor workplace conditions, and frustrations with administrative systems. Many nurses are approaching retirement age, and some took retirement early rather than choosing to work through the COVID-19 crisis.

These issues combined result in staffing problems for healthcare facilities, driving fear among the public. Many adults believe nursing and long-term care facilities fail to maintain appropriate staffing levels. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly a quarter of nursing facilities reported nursing staff shortages in March 2022, down from the peak of 28% in January 2022 but well above the 15% reported in May 2020.

The facilities themselves are not to blame for staffing shortfalls. There are more jobs available than there are qualified nurses. Nurses are leaving the profession; one 2015 study suggests that a million nurses will have retired by 2030. Shortfalls will continue to be a challenge for years to come without a rise in new nurses entering the field to replace them.

Low Job Satisfaction

Nurses have multiple reasons for leaving the field. The conditions at work are one factor that drives career decisions. Many facilities have asked nurses to work under unsustainable conditions, even before the pandemic.

Inflexible scheduling demands cut into personal and family time. Many nurses report burnout and exhaustion, along with low job satisfaction. Nurses who feel consistently overworked and under-supported are inclined to seek other opportunities.

Obstacles Caused by Dated Processes

The focus on social distance as a primary infection-control procedure during the pandemic highlighted the ways technology can help or hinder care delivery. Moving to online portal systems can increase patient engagement while reducing the administrative tasks that can fall to nurses. These systems offer capabilities, including scheduling, collecting patient intake information, and sharing clinical information with other providers. All of which can be done in real-time, from a distance. 

Updating digital technology boosts overall population health, especially as more patients are capable tech users. For example, according to a Pew Research Center survey, tech users in the 65 and older group have grown significantly over the past decade. 

Automation streamlines the administrative functions critical to patient care but burdensome for nurses. Thanks to improved technology, nurses can rely on chatbots and other online tools to manage routine post-care communications, virtual triage to determine if patients need an appointment, and handle patient scheduling changes. Facilities that implement updated data processes can save up to 3 hours per day of staff time, which boosts job satisfaction among staff.  

Aging Labor Force

In 2022, the age of around one million registered nurses will be 50 or older, amounting to approximately one-third of the U.S. nursing workforce. As many as 80,000 nurses per year may retire between now and 2030.

The wave of retirements will also affect nurse educators. Nursing schools cannot accept every qualified applicant. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that in 2020, shortages of clinical sites, faculty, and other resource constraints resulted in over 80,000 qualified applicants not being accepted to nursing programs.

COVID-19

The disruption and dangers that COVID-19 imposed on the healthcare system are difficult to overstate. Millions of healthcare workers took on incomparable levels of responsibility during the peaks of each wave. Millions also contracted the virus and suffered the same lingering effects as other COVID-19 survivors.

Nurses, as frontline workers, experienced extremely high levels of covid exposure. Regardless of the care setting, nurses work in intimate proximity to patients. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccination can reduce the risk of contracting the illness. However, vaccines were not yet available, and PPE was scarce in the early phases of the pandemic. Nurses felt the strain of doing their job, risking illness, and filling in for colleagues who got sick or had to isolate themselves after exposure.

Facilities with the technology to implement virtual visits reduced stress and the risk of illness for nursing staff. After adjusting to the new paradigm, patients and nurses began to appreciate the value of virtual appointments for routine care. Post-pandemic, virtual health will be a vital tool for adding efficiency to nursing workloads and equalizing healthcare access for patients.

On-the-Job Stress

Budget cuts often result in the number of staff reduced on any given shift, meaning nurses have to take on extra duties or longer shifts. They may move to different medical departments, where they feel less confident in their skills. Inadequate staffing and lack of clinical experience increase the risk of errors, adding stress to nurses who want to give excellent care.

Nursing is a high-stress profession under the best of circumstances. The stakes can be life and death. In some instances, nurses work in situations with a real risk of violence and personal injury. The physical and emotional toll can be overwhelming. If facilities can’t provide adequate support for nurses, they start to seek other opportunities.

Facilities often inadvertently add to nurse stress by using outdated and cumbersome technology. Old systems inhibit timely information sharing and demand laborious data entry. Nurses have to work additional time managing communication with patients or their families instead of having access to systems that allow seamless data transfer between patients and providers.

Creating a Positive Workplace Will Attract and Retain Nurses

Healthcare organizations will find heavy competition to attract the best nursing staff. With nurses in high demand, they will be able to choose workplaces that offer the best levels of job satisfaction. Provider systems that don’t meet the work environment demands of top nurses will continue to face shortfalls in staffing.

Upgrading technology to improve workflow will improve working conditions for nurses. Nurses will face less stress during working hours, see better work-life balance, and be better able to safeguard their health. All of this will combine to prevent nurse burnout and improve patient care.

Digital transformation is a proven route to improving operational efficiency and patient-centric experiences. It can also be the foundation for establishing a workplace that attracts and retains the top nurses in the field. QliqSOFT is an expert in updating digital processes to improve workflow. Contact us today to set up a demo and see how QliqSOFT digital solutions can improve nursing working conditions and job satisfaction for nurses.

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The Author
Ben Henson

A lifelong communicator, this Tennessee native got his start in broadcast news before branching out into public media, corporate, communications, digital advertising, and integrated marketing. Prior to joining QliqSOFT as the company's first marketing team member, Ben shared his talents with organizations that include the University of Alabama, iHeartMedia, and The Kroger Company.

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