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5 Strategies to Implement to Reduce Nursing Shortages

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Nursing shortages have been an increasing concern over the last decade, reaching a crisis point during the recent pandemic. Several factors have contributed to nursing shortages across the US and globally, including the aging population, aging nurse workforce, and the rising financial burden of training nurses.

Aging Population

There are two main factors that have resulted in an aging population. 

Firstly, modern medicine has advanced, which allows the population to live longer lives. While we can count this a win for humanity as a whole, there is a knock-on effect on the global nursing staff. As the population ages, this means the deterioration of health happens at a slower speed and over a more extended period. This requires more nursing to help treat older people. 

Additionally, more people suffer and recover from serious health problems. Previously, serious health issues needed extended medical care, which burden nursing resources. More patients and more illnesses, along with an ailing number of nurses, leaves current practitioners thinly spread on the ground.

Post 2nd world war, the baby boomer generation was born. As their name suggests, the US saw a significant increase in population. This generation is now reaching retirement age. For once, we can't blame this issue on Gen Z and millennials.

So not only are people living longer, we now have a swell of geriatric people requiring nursing care. 

This is putting a strain on healthcare organizations and their medical resources, including nurses. 

Aging Nurse Workforce

The baby boomer generation does not only impact the number of potential patients requiring nursing care. It also affects nursing resources. According to a recent survey of registered nurses, the average age of a nurse is 50 years old. 

The speed at which nurses retire out far surpasses the rate at which nurses are being recruited and trained. 

We do not only have to implement recruitment strategies to replace retiring nursing with newly trained nurses. Medical advancement has placed an additional requirement for nurses to be trained to use equipment that requires not just functional skills but a base of practical experience to deliver treatment effectively. 

This has resulted in a skills gap as well as just a resource gap.

The financial burden of training nurses has not been addressed fully

Even if we had more of the population wanting to be trained to become nurses, the US wouldn't be able to meet those training demands. The number of nursing schools is decreasing. 

Those nursing schools still delivering nursing programs face logistical and budget challenges. There are fewer faculty, clinical infrastructure, and classroom spaces available, which are more costly to manage.

We do not have the infrastructure to train nurses at the capacity we require to fulfill the resource gaps left by retiring nurses. 

Why Experience Nurses are Walking Away

If an aging population and retiring nurses aren't enough to contend with, the role of a nurse is highly stressful. The role itself can be emotionally taxing, but the issue is compounded by the stress caused by working longer hours to cover the shortages of nurses.

According to the American Nurses Association, burnout has become a contributing factor to nurses leaving the profession.

"Examining survey data from 95,499 nurses, found a much higher job dissatisfaction and burnout among nurses who were directly caring for patients in hospitals and nursing homes than among nurses working in other jobs or settings, such as the pharmaceutical industry."

Strategies to combat nursing shortages

Whether healthcare organizations have lost resources due to retirement or burnout, the issue remains the same. As an organization and as a society at large, we want to deliver the same high-quality healthcare to all patients. 

So, as vital as it is to understand why we find ourselves facing a nursing crisis, we have to create strategies and use resources that either help resolves the problem or at least allow us to deploy the resources we have as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

Strategy 1 - Review and Revise Internal Policies

On average, replacing a registered nurse costs around $65,000 on top of the salary of the previous nurse. 

It's not only a matter of being able to provide high-quality care; the nursing crisis has financial implications. Recent studies have suggested that even just a 1% increase in annual nursing turnover could resolve in a health care organization losing as much as $300,000.

More money should be spent on nursing school, technology to ease the burden of nurses, and clearly defined career paths so nurses feel they can progress in their careers without having to move out of the industry. 

Making nurses feel wanted and valued by having the right policies in place can have a positive impact on health care workers and staffing. 

Strategy 2 - Have a diverse nursing workforce

As the population has become more culturally diverse, each healthcare organization should be looking to keep their nursing workforce representative of their patients. Studies have shown this to have a positive impact on patient satisfaction.

Additionally, this allows healthcare organizations to look at supplementing their current nursing resources with trained international nurses who are able to bring the skills and experiences lost by retiring nurses.  

Strategy 3 - Financial Incentives

As a temporary solution, nurses are incentivized to work more shifts by offering monetary benefits. 

This can allow some organizations to create breathing space to put strategies to get ahead of the crisis. However, having nurses working increased shifts will accelerate or accentuate the industry's burnout problem. 

Financial incentives have to play a role, but it's a limiting role only. 

Strategy 4 - Utilizing Nursing Workforce Development Programs

There are a number of nursing staff development programs under the Public Health Service Act. These programs offer grants for nursing training, academic sites, and students. 

They are programs created to attract, educate, and support nursing students as they enter the industry.

These programs include loan forgiveness schemes and other financial assistance. 

These programs are a great starting point to address the long term. However, the industry needs both new nurses and skilled nurses. 

Managing nurse staffing with just development programs will leave a skill and experience shortage that needs to be addressed. 

 

Leaning on technology to manage nursing resources

So far, we've explored how we can directly support the nurses within organizations and strategies to help resolve the nursing shortage. Another strategy available to healthcare providers is to recruit and manage resources as effectively as possible. 

That's how platforms like Credentially have been playing a role. As a medical credentialing software, we can positively impact managing nursing resources in 2 important ways:

 1- Credentialing nurses as quickly as possible. 

When a nursing resource is recruited, each organization must go through several checks to verify that the nurse has the proper credentials, experience, and criminal history of being able to work with patients. 

When done manually, this is a time-consuming process. It requires the credentialing department to liaise with many external partners and the applicants simultaneously while credentialing and often re-credentialing hundreds, if not thousands of medical staff. 

This causes bottlenecks and can lead to credentialing and onboarding becoming stagnated. 

With a platform like Credentially, we automate most of the processes for the organization. Nurses upload their certificates and personal data, and emails are sent automatically and followed up automatically.

During the COVID-19 crisis, this technology was used to help large healthcare organizations speed up their credentialing process significantly to meet the demands placed on resources by the pandemic. 

This was done without negatively impacting the quality of patient care. 

The feedback from US nursing agencies has been very positive.

 Ison Nursing, for example, stated that the difference in time to credential a nurse is night and day. 

When talking about what their process was like before using onboarding and compliance software, their Operations Director said:

 "We need staff quickly; we need to get them out quickly. The longest part was getting them compliant. Pre-Credentially it could take one month+ to get a candidate compliant. On average now, it's probably about 3-4 days."

2 - Reacting to resourcing issues in real-time

Having a platform gives healthcare organizations a single source of truth for real-time credentialed resources and their allocation. 

When an urgent resourcing issue arises, the platform allows the user to identify what resources they have available with the relevant skills, experience, and verification. It also allows the user to forecast or plan for future resourcing issues. To be more proactive than just reactive.

Key Takeaways

Several simple reasons contribute to nursing problems, but unfortunately, the solutions are more complex. We have an aging population and aging nurse profile, the job is stressful, and pandemics and nursing shortages only exacerbate that problem.

It's of little surprise that some nurses choose to walk away and either work in environments that don't deliver primary care or leave the industry altogether. 

Incentives can help in the short term, as can leveraging global resources and adopting a traveling nurse function. However, these still require a layer of administration to ensure they are certified and credentialed. No one wants the current nursing shortages to negatively impact the quality of patient care. 

In the long term, having better internal work policies and embracing nursing workforce development programs should help bring more nurses into the industry and keep them there.

One of the major takeaways in both the short and long term is to explore the technology available that will enable agencies and healthcare providers to manage their resources as effectively as possible. This includes getting them credentialed and legally available for work quickly. 

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