Solutions to the Nurse Staffing Crisis
It's challenging to find a nurse who hasn't been impacted by the nurse staffing crisis.
When experienced nurses leave the workforce, are there enough new nurses to fill their empty shoes? Are we retaining them long enough to turn them into the next generation of experienced nurses?
Why Is There a Nursing Shortage?
The nurse staffing crisis is a complicated problem that’s steadily growing worse. It's driven by unsustainable working conditions and high patient-to-nurse ratios, which push nurses to their limits. Imagine caring for 8 or more patients at once, struggling to provide the level of care you know they deserve. Nurses have to make difficult decisions about what care must go undone. This rationing of care and the inability to give patients the full attention they need leads to burnout, moral distress, and compassion fatigue. These negative impacts affect nurses across the nation.
Workplace violence and patient aggression, especially in high-stress environments like Emergency Departments, further compound the problem. In those situations, nurses no longer feel safe at work. The final kicker: While trudging through these difficult circumstances, many nurses feel undervalued for their dedication.
“Listening to nurses is crucial. They are the eyes and ears of what's happening in health care," says Nicole Anselme, MBA, MSN, RN, CCRN, SCRN, GERO-BC, senior policy advisor at ANA. "Nurses make up about 40% of a hospital’s workforce, so when their concerns go unheard and unanswered, problems continue to persist."
The nurse staffing problem, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, poses a risk to the well-being of patients and nurses across the country, and the whole health care system. Alarming data about the lack of health care workers prompts the question, "Is there a nursing shortage?"
The clear answer is yes. But what’s the solution?
The American Nurses Association's Commitment
Amidst the challenges of the nurse staffing crisis, the American Nurses Association (ANA) has an unwavering commitment to addressing the issue. ANA joined forces with 4 other organizations to create the Nurse Staffing Task Force.
This group gathered diverse voices from the nursing profession, health care leadership, and patient advocacy groups and gave them the opportunity to share their expertise and concerns about this situation. With a goal of advancing ideas to alleviate the nurse staffing crisis, the Nurse Staffing Task Force developed recommendations for long-term solutions, including:
- Reform the work environment: Create committees with direct-care nurses that can make flexible staffing decisions, establish programs for a safe and supportive workplace, and empower nurse leaders to maintain a healthy work environment.
- Innovate the models for care delivery: Update care methods to be inclusive and based on evidence, use advanced technology, prioritize innovation in care delivery, and encourage reducing nurses' workload.
- Establish staffing standards that ensure quality care: Encourage specialty nurse organizations to create staffing guidelines; advocate for government rules to meet these guidelines; and suggest that Medicare, Medicaid, and The Joint Commission make rules to ensure proper staffing.
- Improve regulatory efficiency: Make it easier for nurses to get their licenses, remove obstacles to what they can do, and provide more information about the nursing workforce to nursing decision makers.
- Value the unique contributions of nurses: Encourage using methods to measure how nursing affects a hospital's success, promote using systems to collect data on nursing, and work with insurance companies to find ways to pay for nursing that show its importance.
These Task Force recommendations were released in May 2023 and have a major focus on policy, regulation, and payment structures for long-term, sustainable solutions. Read more about the group’s full recommendations.
How Nurses Can Make a Difference
From the structure of the nursing unit to the complexity of patient care, nurses know what their own teams need. ANA stands by a legislative approach that empowers nurses to create flexible staffing plans for their own units. The goal is to enhance staffing levels and create a more supportive environment for nurses when they need it most.
Health care can benefit from greater nurse involvement. It's vital for nurses to step into leadership roles to meet the ever-evolving demands of our health care system.
What specific actions can you take to positively impact the nurse staffing crisis? Here are practical ways you can contribute to this cause:
- Get inspired: Read stories about how nurses have used their influence to shape and bring about change, or share your own story.
- Be vocal and advocate: Don't be afraid to voice your concerns. Advocate for yourself, your colleagues, and your patients. Participate in committees and attend meetings to bring more awareness to this issue.
- Educate your policymakers: As a nurse, you’re an expert. Reach out to politicians and policymakers to ensure they understand the realities of the staffing crisis by educating them about the negative outcomes of the nurse staffing crisis. Bringing your knowledge, insights, and concerns to their attention can help create meaningful legislative change.
- Leverage the resources at your disposal: Turn to professional organizations like the ANA and other specialty nurse organizations to educate the public, your colleagues, and yourself. For example, you could get involved with the American Nurses Association Political Action Committee (ANA-PAC), a federal office that champions ANA’s legislative priorities.
"Nurses should be fierce advocates for themselves, their colleagues, and their patients. It's essential because, at the end of the day, it's the patients who ultimately suffer the most when nurses are unable to provide the quality care patients need and deserve."
Empowering Nurses for a Brighter Tomorrow
As you navigate the challenges of the nurse staffing crisis, remember that you're not alone. Burnout, moral distress, and compassion fatigue are interconnected struggles, but there is hope for change. Mentorship opportunities can help you build the necessary skills to work through these challenges. By tapping into the wisdom and experience of mentors, you add more resources and knowledge to your toolbox. Draw on these tools when needed so you can thrive in the nursing profession.
ANA also offers guidance and resources through Healthy Nurse, Healthy NationÔ to help nurses reduce and cope with burnout, compassion fatigue, and moral distress:
- Managing Demands & Preventing Burnout
- Is It Compassion Fatigue or Burnout?
- Nursing Burnout: What Is It And What To Do About It
- Mental Health Help For Nurses
- Moral Distress: What It Is And What To Do About It
- Learn How To Cultivate Moral Courage
Together, we can create a brighter future for nursing. Let's advocate for better staffing levels, improved work environments, and the recognition you truly deserve. By working collectively, we can alleviate the burdens you face and enhance the quality of patient care.
Get More Involved to Make Change
Another way you can get involved is by attending the Nurse Staffing Task Force Project ECHO® Virtual Event Series: From Data to Action. This free, five-part interactive webinar presents strategies to tackle the current staffing crisis, offering 1.5 CNE credits per session attended. Each session offers insights from Nurse Staffing Task Force members and the opportunity to engage in peer discussions that focus on actions nurses can take at any stage of their career.
Review the Nurse Staffing Task Force Project ECHO® Virtual Event Series recordings, now available on YouTube, to be a part of the solution. Together, we can positively impact the nursing workforce and bring about the change we so desperately need.
How has the nurse staffing crisis affected you? Share with us in the discussion comments below.
Not a member of Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation (HNHN) yet? Join today!
Sign up for our monthly challenges!