Crisis Mode is Still 'On' for Registered Nurses - SkillGigs
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Crisis Mode is Still ‘On’ for Registered Nurses

Nursing is often regarded as a selfless profession in which the needs of your patients come first. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States healthcare sector had created a consistent channel for people looking to become Registered Nurses (RN) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN). The pandemic has changed the career plans of many United States nurses. According to a McKinsey consulting and advisory firm study, the rate at which nurses have reportedly planned to leave the workforce over the past two years is higher than in the past decade. Therefore, it’s a fair argument to say crisis mode is still on.

The study also paints a dire portrait of the situation around nurse care in the United States healthcare system in the next several years. In part, if the firm’s analysts are correct, the healthcare system might face a deficit of 200,000 to 450,000 nurses by 2025, indicating a shortage of 10-20 percent of the nurses needed to care for all patients in the system. This article provides context for the pandemic’s impact on nursing shortages, the increase in travel nurses, and how to ease the overall nursing shortage in the United States.

COVID-19 Impact on Healthcare Workforce

The concern of healthcare leaders about having enough qualified workers is not new. For instance, in 2019, about 80 percent of hospital CEOs reported registered nurse shortages as one of their top staffing challenges. The forecast of an aging population did not match up well with the assumed available workforce to support.  Then by 2021, hospital CEOs ranked the clinical workforce as their top priority as the pandemic put added stress on existing stress. Also, in February 2022, 84 percent of the McKinsey COVID-19 Hospital Insights Survey respondents reported a lack of clinical support staff availability as a barrier to growing the number of patients, workforce shortages, and elective surgery.

According to our estimate, the United States may face three obstacles in addressing patient care needs by 2025:

  • Lower absolute registered nurse (RN) workforce supply
  • Higher inpatient demand from or related to COVID-19 continuation
  • Ongoing shifts in work settings and increased demand as a result of a growing and aging population

While focusing on the lower supply of the registered nurses’ workforce, it is vital to recognize that the issue is not confined to only registered nurses. However, because this study is based on head count, it may not completely account for the capacity impact of prospective shifts between full-time, part-time, or per diem status.

Exhaustion and Burnout in the Workforce

During the COVID-19 crisis, exhaustion and burnout have taken a heavy toll on the healthcare staff. According to a ‘Morning Consult’ survey, nearly 20 percent of healthcare employees left their jobs during the pandemic, and one-third of those who remained said they had considered leaving.

However, the shortfall did not start with the COVID-19 pandemic and will not end. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which examines the physician workforce, the United States had approximately 20,000 fewer doctors in 2019 than was required to address the country’s healthcare needs. According to the same organization, if current trends continue, the shortfall could reach 124,000 by 2034, including a shortage of up to 48,000 primary care doctors.

A study from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences shows that the average age of an employed RN increased from about 43 to nearly 48 between 2000-2018, with over half being over 50. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there will be roughly 195,000 vacancies for registered nurses annually through 2030. However, a report from St. Augustine also stated that the profession is not creating enough registered nurses to fulfill demand. Quick translation? The nurse population available is closer to their own retirement with not enough new pipeline of nurses to join.

The Rise of Travel Nurses

During the pandemic, the demand for travel nurses rose steeply. Travel nurses are RNs who work temporarily at clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare institutions worldwide. Generally, travel nurses are hired by independent recruitment companies [or better yet, placed using SkillGigs] rather than a single health facility. Travel nursing became popular in the 80s, which was in response to nursing shortages. But in 2020, it increased by 35 percent over the previous year, and the practice is predicted to increase by another 40 percent. One advantage of travel nursing is the opportunity to triple or quadruple one’s earnings.

For example, during the early COVID-19 surges in April 2020, national earnings for travel nurses increased by 25 percent. Before the pandemic, hospital staff nurses earned an average of $73,300 per year or almost $1,400 per week. On the other hand, travel nurses earned between $5,000 and $10,000 per week. In addition to the higher compensation, travel nurses can work when they choose, taking weeks or months off between duties, and working in places they might not be able to afford as a permanent resident.

The Importance of Solving the Nursing Shortage

Nursing shortages negatively impact patient outcomes. For instance, a nursing shortage can lead to errors and a lessened ability to monitor patients. On the other hand, proper staffing levels can result in shorter hospital stays and lower mortality. These improved patient outcomes can also result in substantial cost savings for taxpayers and hospitals. At the same time, addressing social determinants of health (SDOH) requires a well-supported and diverse nursing workforce.

These nonmedical elements influence an individual’s health, such as access to education, economic stability, access to and quality of health care, environment, and social context. Nurses are well-positioned to identify the resources and needs linked to social determinants of health across a growing diverse population with its complicated demands as the largest component of the healthcare workforce and one that works in numerous community settings, including public health agencies.

Taking Action

According to McKinsey, the United States must at least triple the number of new graduates and the workforce for at least the next three years to meet the country’s nursing staffing needs. While this might seem impossible, the healthcare industry might take steps to close the gap between supply and demand. In addition, federal and state governments, healthcare providers, private-sector groups, and society must all work together to address the problem. To help satisfy the increased need for nurses, the study identified a few areas of potential opportunity.

  • Make nursing a more appealing career option
  • Increase the number of educational and medical positions available
  • Redesign clinical education through new collaborations
  • Develop new care delivery methods
  • Not directly identified but one we would add, empower healthcare workers to take their careers into their own hands by lessening their dependency on traditional agency staffing models. Talent platforms, like our SkillGigs e-commerce style marketplace gives all the control back to the user so they can demand more pay and seek out opportunities that match their requirements and skills.

Addressing short-term workforce issues and preventing a significant gap in the future is likely contingent on proper incentives and conditions that keep nursing an attractive profession. If these changes are taken, patient outcomes and the stability of the healthcare personnel may improve, benefiting the entire healthcare sector.

Healthcare, academic, and community leaders are up to the challenge based on what we’ve seen and the resiliency displayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, they could use help from every part of society. Without action, every aspect of healthcare could be at risk.