By John Commins
An aging and retiring nurse workforce, burnout from the pandemic, and a rapidly greying Baby Boomer population have created a trifecta of staffing challenges across the healthcare space, but one nurse leader has some suggestions.
“We have a turnover problem,” says Kenneth R. White, PhD, APRN, FACHE, FAAN, president of the American Academy of Nursing and School of Nursing Dean at the MGH Institute of Health Professions.
“To add more nurses is only part of the equation. We need to make sure we learn more about how we can support nurses, keep the bedside and make sure that they’re in a safe and supportive culture,” he says.
White concedes that “fixing the nursing shortage is very complicated,” but he believes there are pain points that can be addressed.
“One is financial incentives,” he says. “Loan repayment. Loan remission, scholarships in return for work commitment once (nurses) graduate. It’s difficult to give up employment for one or two years to go back to school to be a nurse and pay very high tuitions in many cases. We need to ease that financial burden.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 275,000 new nurses will be needed by 2030. However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that last year nursing schools turned away more than 90,000 qualified applicants owing to a lack of educators or clinical placements.
White says the healthcare system must find a way to provide the access to training for tens of thousands of would-be nurses.
“Applicants are being turned away for two reasons: 1) there’s a shortage in nurse educators across the country and 2) nursing programs can’t place all the students in clinical learning experiences,” White says. “If you can’t guarantee nursing students will learn in a hospital or community setting, there’s no sense in admitting them because they won’t receive the hands-on experience they need to graduate and provide patient care.”
White says there are two ways to alleviate that conundrum.
“One is to incentivize those who can teach nurses and mentor them. Because salaries went up during the pandemic, nurse educators oftentimes make more money as a staff nurse than they can being a nurse educator,” he says. “We need to right-size that to make sure our nurse educators are rewarded for the great work they do.
“Secondly, the government can help. The Department of Labor recently announced a program calling for schools and clinical partners to attract a more diverse nursing student workforce, and more incentives for hospitals to take on students in a clinical setting,” White says, adding that “the program’s $80 million is a great start but I do think we need much more than that.”
“We need policymakers and private funders to take a very close look at what needs to be done to fund or reimburse hospitals and health systems for nursing education,” he says.
In addition, White says it is imperative that hospitals and other clinical settings provide new nurses with support, resources and respect.
“Nurses graduating now – if they’re not feeling respected and supported in that first year or two, they’ll leave,” he says. “They don’t have the same commitment that our baby boom nurses had to work in one place for their entire career. For them to leave, that only exacerbates the problem.”
“So, we need to understand what nurses need to feel valued and respected in order to give the very best care for their patients.”
John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.