While the last two years of the pandemic have shown how resilient and crucial nurses are to society, the growing nursing shortage continues to have a tremendous impact on the healthcare industry. Nurses are leaving the field at an alarming rate and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has projected a potential shortfall of 13 million nurses worldwide by 2030. While many nurses are reaching the age for retirement, burnout and continued stress from the pandemic have become major factors in the decision to leave the profession.
In the U.S., recent studies show that more nursing jobs will become available in the next two years compared to any other profession, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting that 11 million new nurses will be needed to combat the shortage. Proactive measures must be taken to address this shortage. To do so, health systems, hospitals and educational institutions must come together and provide better support and resources to current and future nurses.
Below are four ways that I believe the healthcare industry and its leaders can reinvigorate the nursing industry while encouraging new nurses to enter practice.
1. Improve Clinical Judgment Skills to Prepare Practice-Ready Nurses
Clinical judgment is a vital component of a nurse’s daily responsibilities, but research shows that many nurses entering the profession have not properly developed these necessary skills. As a result, nearly 40% of new nurses have reported making medication errors and 50% have reported missing signs of life-threatening conditions. The stress associated with these errors is leading to high turnover rates, with some hospitals experiencing new nurse turnover rates as high as 35% within the first year of employment.
To reinforce the development of these skills and ensure nurses are practice-ready, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) is updating its National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). Starting in 2023, the exam will include sections to measure a student’s clinical judgment and decision-making ability. As students and educators prepare for these changes, a forthcoming study in the Journal of Professional Nursing demonstrated a path to NCLEX success. The research found that students who used HESI, an NCLEX review and assessment solution, and also scored a 900 or greater on the HESI Exit Exam had a pass rate of 97% on the NCLEX-RN.
To prepare students for the upcoming Next Generation NCLEX (NGN), nursing programs should integrate clinical judgment learning and assessment solutions across their program curricula. For example, EdTech solutions such as clinical experience simulations in combination with NGN assessments provide an innovative way to prepare students. The immersive learning experience provided by digital simulations allows students to practice clinical reasoning and clinical judgment skills while treating diverse sets of patients who they will eventually encounter in the real-world setting.
2. Provide Continued Professional Development Throughout the Career Journey
Education doesn’t end after nursing school graduation. Instead, the industry needs to approach education as a continuous life-long journey. Scaled continued education solutions can benefit nurses at every step of their career. Whether it is a student who is just entering nursing school, new nurses who are transitioning to practice or even the most seasoned nurses, ongoing training provides tools and guidance for professional development and career success.
As healthcare professionals continue to face information overload and more complex patient scenarios, these educational resources can provide nurses with the latest evidence-based information for improving patient safety and overall health outcomes. These solutions can also help create time-management efficiencies by reducing the time practitioners spend on research, assisting nurses in managing higher workloads and delivering high-quality patient care.
3. Invest in Nursing Education and Advanced Technology Solutions
Advancements in technology have transformed the delivery of nursing education. Academic institutions need to invest in new forms of technology that allow students to develop clinical reasoning skills while building confidence. As mentioned earlier, simulation-based education tools provide students with an immersive educational experience. Shadow Health is one example of how programs can provide digital clinical experiences at scale. This tool features real-life patient scenarios, providing nursing students with the opportunity to improve their decision-making capabilities and learn from mistakes in a controlled, safe environment.
These types of EdTech solutions offer multiple benefits to students and educators alike. As nursing schools continue to turn away qualified applicants due to lack of physical classroom space and clinical sites and an insufficient number of educators, these advanced tools provide more capacity to higher-education institutions and allow students to develop their skills by engaging in realistic patient scenarios. According to the American Association of Colleges and Nursing, more than 80,000 applicants were turned away at four-year institutions due to these limitations.
In fact, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing has found that digital simulations were just as effective as physical clinical experiences, supporting the utilization of simulations to replace up to 50% of traditional clinical hours without impact. By investing in innovative technologies, academic institutions are ensuring that nurses are getting practice-ready experience to prepare them for a multitude of patient situations.
4. Provide Access to Mental Health Resources and Support
It has been widely acknowledged that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the mental health of nurses and healthcare professionals. According to an ICN survey, nearly 80% of national nursing associations have received reports about mental health distress from nurses. Similarly, a February 2021 study by the American Association of Nurses (AAN) uncovered that a year into the pandemic, nurses continued to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders linked to occupational stress.
To help nurses maintain their mental wellbeing, hospitals and health systems have an obligation to provide nurses with support systems and resources. Hospital leaders need to listen to their nurses to truly understand what they’re going through and what they need in terms of wellness support. From there, these leaders should design and implement policies and programs that can best addresses the mental health needs of their staff. These types of programs can help reduce burnout caused by stress while improving workplace efficiencies to encourage higher levels of retention.
Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry, and it’s time we ensure they are set up for success throughout their career journey. These dedicated women and men have done so much for society, and now is our time to provide them with the continuous support and training they deserve.