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Nursing the Nurse Shortage

Nursing the Nurse Shortage

Looking at Effects of a Nurse Deficit 

By: Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

A widespread worker shortage currently poses a major problem for hospitals around the United States. This creates issues for patients, hospitals, and nurses alike. 

On the part of nurses, worker shortages can be a source of headaches. 

Problems come from the fact that nurses may be asked to take care of too many patients at once, which can be dangerous for the patients and increase stress for nurses. 

Michael Beaudoin is a Portland nurse who works in the skilled nursing facility at Laurelhurst Village, a care facility focused on rehabilitation and other types of care. [1] He said that at times, the number of patients he is relied on to take care of can be “on the verge of being unsafe, especially when a nurse calls out or there is some issue of staffing.” [2] 

Unsafe patient-to-nurse ratios are linked to higher mortality rates and other issues for patients, so not only does it increase the pressure on nurses, but it is ultimately detrimental for patients. [3] 

The stress on nurses is particularly evident in the turnover rate of new nurses: 18% of new nurses leave the profession within the first year, and another third within the first two years. [4] 

Mental health issues also show themselves to be problematic in the nursing field, with a 2021 poll showing 44% of nurse respondents rate their mental health and wellbeing as being bad or very bad. [5] 

Beaudoin stated that the nursing industry is “overdue for a reform to improve patient care.” [6] 

Sophomore nursing major Laura Gaylor expressed that she hopes to create compassion and a safe working environment when she enters the nursing field. [7] This positive attitude is what may prove to be necessary from new graduates entering the workforce in order to benefit mental health among workers. 

Gaylor is hopeful that while demand for nurses will continue to grow, passion felt by nurses will increase over time and help match growing needs. [8] In fact, good nursing culture may be a strong factor to improve worker retention and may help draw new workers to the profession. 

Bachelor’s programs for nursing such as that offered by WWU are greatly needed to stem the nursing deficit being felt right now. Directly increasing the number of nurses entering the workforce is the most straightforward way of addressing the issue of the nursing shortage. 

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Immediate care for patients is impaired when staffing isn’t adequate. Photo by Emmett Pennington-Guthrie.

More than that, however, alterations in nursing working conditions may prove necessary to improve nurse retention and increase the amount of people willing to join the field. These alterations may include increasing the average pay for nurses or increasing benefits to attract more workers. 

Consider the prevalence of agency and travel nurses, nurses who work at various sites for shorter periods of time by operating with an agency as the middleman to contract temporarily with hospitals. These nurses are more expensive than regular ones but are still frequently used by hospitals to fill needed roles. 

Beaudoin estimated that less than 15% of the daily workforce consists of agency workers, which is still a significant portion. [9] 

The use of agency workers implies that hospitals may be able to draw enough workers, but only by paying an increased price. 

If the shortage of workers is to be resolved, pay for nurses may ultimately need to be increased.  

References 

  1. Interview with Michael Beaudoin, 11/24/2021. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Phillips, J., Peck Malliaris, A., Bakerjian, D. (2021, April 21). Nursing and patient safety. PSNethttps://psnet.ahrq.gov/primer/nursing-and-patient-safety 
  1. Lockhart, L. (2020, March/April). Strategies to reduce nursing turnover. Nursing Made Incredibly Easy. https://bit.ly/3o3OQfQ  
  1. Ford, M. (2021, March 31). Nursing Times survey reveals state of nurses’ mental health one year into pandemic. Nursing Times. https://bit.ly/3E8M8eC  
  1. Interview with Michael Beaudoin, 11/24/2021. 
  1. Interview with Laura Gaylor, 11/24/2021. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Interview with Michael Beaudoin, 11/24/2021.
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