Where Are You Most Needed? 6 Nursing Shortage Facts for Students

Where Are You Most Needed? 6 Nursing Shortage Facts for Students

It’s no secret that the United States is in desperate need of nurses. Due to patients living longer, educational bottlenecks, and a staggeringly high turnover rate in the health care industry, the nursing shortage is a growing problem that’s putting serious pressure on nursing staff around the country.

As a nursing student, you’re probably well aware of these issues. In fact, it may even be one of the primary reasons you’re pursuing a nursing career in the first place. After all, what could be more fulfilling than providing care and support for patients who desperately need it?

There are several areas—both physical and occupational—where the need for nurses is at an all-time high. If your true calling is to make a difference in the lives of your patients, here are six nursing shortage facts that may influence where you end up after graduation.

1. California has the greatest nursing shortage of any state.

Although California employs the highest number of registered nurses in the country, it needs more—a lot more, in fact. According to a 2017 report by the Health Resources and Services Administration, California is predicted to have the highest demand for nurses in the country, with a shortage of nearly 45,000 registered nurses.

With its strong economy and thriving metropolitan areas, California has long been a desirable place to live. If you’re thinking about working as a nurse in the Golden State, check out the California Nursing Students’ Association (CNSA) for mentorship and networking opportunities.

2. Rural towns need the most help.

If you prefer small town life to the hustle and bustle of urban living, health care institutions in rural America will gladly accept your help. Attracting and retaining qualified nurses has long been a problem for hospitals in rural locations, mainly due to the lower pay rate and less lively social scene.

While the pay may be lower, the cost of living is often lower as well. Plus, you’ll never deal with the insane traffic that you’d find in a metropolitan area. For nursing students who truly want to make a difference, the rural health care workforce is in desperate need of help.

3. Demand for certified nurse midwives is growing.

What could be more meaningful than caring for the newest generation? Certified nurse midwives are experiencing a huge surge in demand lately as more couples wish for positive and natural birth experiences.

According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nurse midwives is expected to grow 21% by 2026, with 1,700 jobs created in this occupation. As an added bonus, you’re looking at a median wage of $106,910 for this field, per estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

4. Certified nurse anesthetists, dialysis nurses, and other nurse specialties are growing, too.

In addition to certified nurse midwives, there is a growing number of in-demand nurse specialties that nursing students should consider. Making one of these specialties your primary focus can help you facilitate change in the health care industry and pave the way towards a fulfilling career:

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNAs): CRNAs work with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other health care professionals to safely deliver anesthesia to patients. CRNAs are one of the higher-paying fields in the industry, with a mean annual wage of $174,790.
  • Certified Dialysis Nurse (CDN): As our population continues to age, the need for dialysis services is growing. A CDN assists their patients with kidney function issues by supporting the administration of dialysis with a physician. Growth for this job is steady and is expected to increase 26% over the next decade.
  • Pediatric Endocrinology (PED ENDO) Nurse: As a PED ENDO nurse, you’ll provide care and support for children with endocrine disorders such as diabetes or hypoglycemia. Unfortunately, the need for this occupation may be growing due to our increasing risk of diabetes and obesity.

5. The need for nurse educators has never been greater.

One of the reasons why the country is facing such an immense shortage of registered nurses is partly due to educational bottlenecks. With an aging faculty, budget issues, and low pay, the demand for nurse educators is at an all-time high.

According to a 2017 study published in Nursing Outlook, one-third of current nurse educators are expected to retire by 2025. Most younger faculty members who may potentially replace them don’t have nearly the same level of experience as their older counterparts.

To address this shortage, many nursing programs and organizations are providing more funding for nursing students to seek doctoral degrees to replenish the supply of nurse educators and researchers. If you’re a current nursing student, don’t be afraid to talk with your advisor or senior nursing students about pursuing a doctoral degree.

6. Travel nurses can greatly benefit nurses and hospitals alike.

Travel nursing is just one of the ways in which the nation is addressing the decades-long nursing shortage. Being a travel nurse is exactly what it sounds like: You sign a short-term contract and travel to wherever you’re needed most, often for much better pay than staff nurses.

If you’ve always dreamed of packing your nursing bag to see more of the world while making a positive difference in the lives of your patients, becoming a travel nurse can help you achieve both. Although you need roughly 18 months of experience in a nursing specialty to be a travel nurse, the opportunity to travel internationally or across the country for a high pay rate is undeniably appealing.

As a nursing student, you have the potential to make a huge impact in your community. Whether it’s by pursuing a doctoral degree or living the life of a traveling nurse, your choices going forward can make all the difference. By keeping these six nursing shortage facts in the back of your mind, you can opt for an extremely rewarding career path that sets you up for success.

7 Strategies to Prevent Nursing Fatigue

7 Strategies to Prevent Nursing Fatigue

Nurses are incredibly resilient. Each day, they wake up, throw on a set of scrubs, and head into work to perform a demanding 12-hour shift—all while striving to provide the best possible care to their patients. Then, they get home and fall asleep, only to begin the process all over again.

But as a nurse, you know that this barely touches the reality of the situation. In the United States, most hospitals and clinics are woefully understaffed, which often forces nurses to work longer shifts and manage far more patients than they can actually handle. The unfortunate result is nursing fatigue, a common condition which can make you feel both mentally and physically exhausted for days, weeks, or even months.

Almost all nurses have experienced nursing fatigue at some point in their careers, so don’t feel guilty over it. Instead, you can try these seven strategies to combat the effects of nursing fatigue.

1. Leave work at the door.

When you clock out from work, it’s important for you to clock out mentally as well. Leaving your work at the door is essential for avoiding compassion fatigue, a condition which results from repeated exposure to patient suffering while working in a high-stress environment.

In a 2017 study published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing, researchers found that nurses were more likely to experience compassion fatigue when they were more self-judgmental. If you come home from work and feel guilty about all the things you could have done to make your patient’s life easier, you won’t give yourself time to recharge for the next shift.

2. Practice different forms of self-care.

Nurses go from patient-to-patient, checking their vital signs, administering medicine, and assisting them with daily activities. As a result, it’s easy to get so caught up in caring for patients that you forget to take care of yourself.

To be on top of your game each day, it’s critical that you do things for yourself on a regular basis. Some self-care practices you can try include: going for a walk in nature, starting your day with meditation, or signing up for a healthy subscription meal service.

If you tend to feel guilty about treating yourself, make your forms of self-care double as a bonus for work. For example, do arm work every other day to help lift your patients or invest in the new pair of nursing shoes that you’ve been eyeing for months.

3. Use your vacation days.

You have vacation days, so remember to use them. Taking time off work is key to preventing burnout and will help you return to work feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. If your nursing unit schedules vacations at the start of each year, be sure to get your days in the books—even if you don’t have anywhere in particular to go.

In fact, planning a “staycation” for yourself may be the perfect getaway. You can recharge your batteries by relaxing at home, catching up on things you’ve been neglecting, and spending quality time with the family.

4. Unload your brain after each day.

After a particularly tiring shift, sometimes you just need to declutter your mind and get all your thoughts out of your head. One way to do this is by writing them down on paper or typing them into a Google doc.

Untangling your mind and getting the thoughts out of your head can lower your mental brain fog and allow you to relax after a shift. The process is simple: Just set a timer for 15 minutes and unload your thoughts. Once the time is up, delete your document or click out of it. Reading it over again will only put the words back into your head.

5. Change your work environment.

While it’s no secret that most hospitals and clinics stretch their nurses far too thin, some take it to another level by creating an environment that is downright dangerous. If your health care institution has a poor nurse-to-patient ratio and no system in place to provide help for nurses, it may be worth it to begin searching for a new job.

Though nursing is an in-demand field, finding the right fit can be trickier than it sounds. Don’t be afraid to explore different health care settings to find your ideal work environment. While you might take a pay cut in some instances, the change could be the key to preventing nurse fatigue.

6. Find a specialty you love.

It’s much easier to prevent nursing fatigue when you truly love what you do. If being a registered nurse just isn’t working for you, consider switching to a nursing specialty that makes you happy to stroll into work each day.

While you could always take a nursing specialty quiz to help you nail down your career, one of the best ways to get a feel for a particular specialty is hands-on experience. Are you interested in a position as an emergency room nurse? Talk with the ER manager and let them know you’re ready to help. There are hundreds of nursing specialties, so be sure to explore all your options to find a job that truly ignites your passion.

7. Explore new hobbies.

Every nurse needs a hobby that allows them to decompress and wind down from work. Finding joy in a new hobby can combat nursing fatigue by giving you something to look forward to after a shift.

Some of the best hobbies for nurses often double as stress-relieving activities, such as painting, knitting, woodworking, and jewelry-making. Be sure to explore hobbies that get your heartrate up. Getting involved in a pickup soccer game, going ziplining with friends, and enrolling in a martial arts class can help keep your mind off work while improving your mood.

Long shifts combined with understaffed nursing units are the perfect storm for nursing fatigue. While some health care facilities are working to address the problem, it’s important for you to be proactive about your health and happiness. With the help of these strategies, you can fight back against nursing fatigue and prevent it from affecting your personal and professional life.

10 Ways to Help Support New Nurses

10 Ways to Help Support New Nurses

As if being a nurse wasn’t already hard enough, many new nurses have to endure brusque behavior and cutting criticism from more experienced colleagues once they start their first job. Combined with other factors such as burnout, this lack of support from nursing colleagues helps explain why turnover is so high among new nurses.

But things don’t have to be this way, and more experienced nurses can do a lot to help new nurses feel welcome. If you’re looking to support and mentor new nurses, here are 10 ideas on how to do just that:

1. Remember that you’re a role model.

First and foremost, remember that new nurses are looking to you as an example of how they should behave. Consider what message you’re sending to them with your conduct. Are you kind, collaborative and calm, or are you easily upset and overly critical? Think of the Golden Rule, and treat new nurses the way you would want to be treated if you were in their nursing shoes.

2. Get them up to speed on company culture.

There are lots of rules, often unspoken, that govern work at both the hospital and unit levels. These customs might not immediately be apparent to new nurses, and that’s where you come in. Educate new employees about the cool rules of your team and the broader organization at large to help them avoid gaffes. There’s always a learning curve when anyone joins a new organization, but you can help shorten that curve for young nurses.

3. Help younger nurses network.

Building connections with colleagues is critical for both short-term success in a particular job and your long-term career trajectory. As an experienced nurse who (hopefully) already has a lot of relationships with fellow nurses, physicians, and administrators, one of the best things you can do is take new nurses around and introduce them to everyone you know. This will give younger nurses a huge jumpstart on networking at their new workplace and get rid of the awkwardness of a blind introduction. If you want to go above and beyond, consider introducing new nurses to your connections from other facilities or associations if they have something in common, such as specialties.

4. Give constructive criticism.

New nurses are bound to make mistakes, and as a more experienced leader, it’s your job to point these out and help them learn from their slip-ups. However, don’t use this as an excuse to tear down new nurses, especially in front of others. While this is often a common practice, it’s bad for both individual and team morale, and ripping a nurse for what they did wrong won’t necessarily teach them how to do better in the future—which is kind of the whole point. Instead, identify what they did wrong and offer suggestions for what they should have done differently.

5. Help them identify areas for growth.

Not all learning experiences have to stem from a mistake. As a mentor, you can work proactively to help new nurses determine areas for growth before it becomes an issue. Maybe they should join some more professional associations, or take additional certification workshops or build closer relationships with physicians. You can also ask new nurses for their own ideas of what they need to improve on to make it a more collaborative process.

6. Praise new nurses when they do something right.

That being said, try not to dwell entirely on mistakes or areas for growth. While these are absolutely critical to helping new nurses develop into their full potential, balance constructive criticism with compliments when new nurses do something right. Maybe they handled a difficult patient really well or they have excellent nursing bag technique. Whatever it is, highlight it and let the new nurses know what a good job they’re doing (in front of others, too, when appropriate).

7. Share examples from your own experience.

Abstract advice is great, but concrete examples from your own early days as a nurse are even better. New nurses often feel like they’re the only ones who have made a mistake or not known what to do, even though every nurse experiences this at some point in their careers. If you’re comfortable sharing, think back on some of your own learning experiences from the start of your nursing career and communicate those to new nurses.

8. Deliver on your promises.

Everyone has that one annoying friend who always cancels plans at the last minute, and this sort of behavior is doubly irritating in a more experienced nurse who’s supposed to be acting as a mentor. Don’t make promises to new nurses that you don’t intend to keep, as this will give the impression that they can engage in the same kind of behavior. It’s much better to say “no” up front if you can’t (or don’t want to) participate.

9. Be a trustworthy sounding board.

New nurses face a lot of dilemmas during their first days and months on the job. They’re coping with high levels of stress, they’re prone to burnout and they’re facing significant choices that can impact their careers down the line. Try to build trustworthy relationships so that when new nurses are thinking about finding a new job (or hanging up their scrubs altogether), they feel comfortable coming to you for advice on their dilemma. Of course, part of this trustworthiness is keeping the conversation confidential and not sharing new nurses’ concerns with your colleagues unless they have explicitly given you permission to do so.

10. Stay open to feedback.

Constructive comments are a two-way street, and the best mentors and leaders are open to feedback and suggestions for improvement from their mentees and direct reports. New nurses might not feel like they have the authority to give this to you without an invitation, so actively solicit feedback and ask people for recommendations on what they need from a mentor and what you can do better. You might be surprised at what ideas they have!

As a more experienced nurse, you can positively impact the careers (and lives) of new nurses if you take them under your wing instead of cutting them down. Use one or more of these strategies to support and mentor new nurses and help them start their first jobs on the right foot.

7 Tips for Transitioning into a New Nursing Specialty

7 Tips for Transitioning into a New Nursing Specialty

Even if you plan to spend your entire career in nursing and never take off your scrubs, you probably won’t work for years and years in the same specialty. While it may seem daunting to change your specialty—especially if you’re early in your career and have never done it before—it’s very common and many nurses do it every single year. If you’re contemplating a specialty switch, here are seven strategies to keep in mind as you prepare for the transition:

1. Take time for self-evaluation.

If you’re thinking about changing your nursing specialty, that’s a pretty clear sign that something about it isn’t working. Before you make the leap, take a deep dive and seriously reflect on why you no longer like your current specialty. Have you hit a plateau and grown bored as a result? Did you realize that you’d rather work in pediatrics as opposed to gerontology? Do you need to transition away from a high-intensity unit such as ICU so you can take care of your own family and health? Switching your specialty is no small task, so doing this self-evaluation upfront will help ensure that you make the right decision.

2. Do your research.

Now that you’ve evaluated yourself, it’s time to start evaluating specialties. Read industry publications, news articles, reputable blogs, relevant journals—whatever materials you think might be helpful. If you can, try attending nursing conferences and job fairs in addition to your online research. These events can often be a really efficient way to explore different career options in a short amount of time, and they’re a great chance to meet colleagues and recruiters whom you would never cross paths with otherwise. You never know–that person you sit next to at a conference panel might one day become your new coworker or boss!

3. Get some hands-on experience.

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of possible specialties that you are interested in, it’s time to get a real-life taste of them. Ask to shadow nurses in the units that are on your shortlist, just as if you were in nursing school again. While it may feel a little weird to go back to shadowing after you’re already an experienced nurse, you simply can’t get a full picture of what it would be like to work in a specialty from reading articles or talking to people. You actually need to be there in the middle of the action. So put on your scrubs and get shadowing!

4. Network, network, network.

The majority of jobs are found through networking and employee referrals rather than traditional job search methods. Estimates for how many jobs are “hidden” (i.e., never advertised) range from 60% to as high as 80%. But don’t get discouraged over their high numbers. Networking with others in your chosen specialty will increase your chances that a colleague will know of a relevant job opportunity they can refer you to. It’s smart to start the networking process early on, before you’ve even necessarily decided on a specific specialty. Reach out to colleagues, tell them that you’re thinking of making a switch and ask if they would be willing to answer some questions about their work. Once you’ve decided on a specialty and built that networking relationship, then you can let them know what sort of position you’re looking for.

5. Consider further education.

Depending on how drastic of a switch you’re trying to make, you might need to get some additional education to help you successfully recruit for a new nursing specialty. This additional education might be as simple as day-long workshops or certification courses, or it might require more work, such as auditing classes at a local college or even getting an advanced degree such as your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Look up job postings for positions that you would be interested in and see if any additional educational requirements are listed. If you have a more experienced mentor, you can also ask their professional opinion on whether or not you need more education.

6. Time your transition wisely.

Choosing a time to switch specialties is almost as important as choosing a new specialty itself. Transition too early, and you’ll look like you’re a job hopper with commitment issues—but transition too late, and it might be difficult to catch up with younger colleagues (not to mention you might have to take a significant pay cut, too). Generally speaking, the best time to make the switch is after you’ve mastered your original specialty and your growth has plateaued, but not so late that you’ve moved up the ranks and would have to swallow a significant demotion in title and/or compensation. Of course, major personal events such as moving and having a baby are also part of this equation, so don’t forget to account for those, too!

7. Have your application materials ready to go.

Preparing the basics of your application in advance will make it much easier and less stressful to apply when you do hear about a job opening in your new chosen specialty. Make sure your resumé is up-to-date and proofread, and have the basic outline of a cover letter drafted as well. (However, you will need to customize your cover letter for each individual job posting.) You should also have some answers brainstormed out in advance for common questions, including “Why do you want to switch your nursing specialty?” so you’re not scrambling for answers in the middle of an interview.

These seven tips will help you make the transition to a new nursing specialty as smooth as possible. It may seem like a lot of work—and it is—but it’s far from impossible, and many nurses do it successfully each year. Just think of how much more fulfilled you’ll be in your professional life after you make the switch, and best of luck with changing your specialty!

What to Expect During Your First Holiday Season as a Nurse

What to Expect During Your First Holiday Season as a Nurse

Your first year working as a nurse is challenging, and your first holiday season is even more so. Oftentimes, the last thing you want to do is put on your scrubs and drive into work while your friends and family are celebrating without you. Unfortunately, every nurse has to work some holidays—it’s just part of the job. Here are eight tips to help you cope successfully with your first holiday season as a nurse.

Get ready to work at least some holidays.

Different facilities run their schedules differently, but one thing is for sure: You’re going to have to work at least some holidays throughout the year. At some hospitals, if you normally work that day of the week, then you work the holiday–period (unless you find someone gracious enough to swap shifts with you, of course). Other facilities pair holidays together—Thanksgiving with July 4, Memorial Day with Christmas, etc.—and you work one day and get the other off, alternating year over year. However, almost no nurse gets all the holidays off each year, so mentally prepare yourself to work on at least some of these days.

If you want to make swaps, do them in advance.

No one likes that coworker who tries to swap a holiday shift only days in advance, so don’t be that person! If you really want a particular holiday off, look into your facility’s shift-swapping protocol and reach out to your coworkers well in advance. It’s a big ask to request that someone else works on a holiday, so you might have to be willing to work a different special day. For example, you take their Thanksgiving shift while they pick up your Christmas one. And of course, it never hurts to sweeten the deal with some Christmas cookies while you’re at it.

Plan your schedule wisely.

Some nurses figure that if they have to work on a holiday, they might as well do three 12-hour shifts back-to-back and get their week over with. While this may sound tempting, be honest with yourself if this is something you can and want to do. Nursing is a tough profession emotionally and physically, and it can be even more so over the holidays–especially if you’re away from your family. If working three consecutive twelves is going to compromise your nursing work, or simply make you exhausted and sad, try to leave yourself some downtime in between shifts so you can spend time with friends and family. Take care of yourself, even if you can’t celebrate the day of the holiday.

Know how to get in touch with senior leadership.

Senior leaders often take or get off the holidays, so they won’t always be around to assist you in case of an emergency. Ask your supervisor what the protocol is for contacting out-of-office leadership in case a situation does arise. Make sure you know who will be quickly accessible and keep their contact info in an easy-to-reach place, such as your nursing bag, at all times. Hopefully nothing will happen, but staff is often spread a bit thin over the holidays and you want to be prepared ahead of time.

Ask others for help and minimize your commitments.

If you already have a holiday routine, it can be difficult to make the adjustment during your first holiday season as a nurse, especially if you’re usually the one doing all the work: cooking the big festive meals, gift shopping on other people’s behalf, hosting the annual holiday party, etc. But trying to do all that during your first year as a nurse will only make you tired and prone to burnout. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family members for help or to back out of your usual activities. Be upfront about the demands of your nursing career, and give people plenty of heads up on what you can and can’t do. Of course, this isn’t to say you have to completely give up on everything. You can still make a side dish to bring to the party (for example), rather than hosting the entire thing.

Be prepared that your family might not understand.

Non-nurses don’t always understand the rigors of the work schedule, and this is especially true for those who work a regular 9-to-5 job and get holidays off. As soon as you know your holiday schedule (which should be pretty far in advance), communicate it to your family, explain why you won’t be able to join them the day of and offer to coordinate an alternative celebration either before or after the holiday itself. If they give you pushback, explain that everyone in your unit has to work some holidays each year without exception. More senior nurses will have gone through this routine many times, so don’t be afraid to turn to them for advice and encouragement on this matter.

Focus on the incentives.

Almost no one wants to work on a holiday, but the situation isn’t all negative. Many facilities provide overtime pay for working on a holiday, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they may offer other perks (such as a free meal in the cafeteria) as well. Put that extra money to good use by scheduling a fun activity after your holiday shift, such as a massage or art class, so you have something to look forward to and a way to reward yourself for all your hard work.

Don’t forget other people are missing the holidays, too.

Obviously, being away from friends and family during the holidays can be tough, but you’re not the only one. Up to a quarter of all Americans are required to work at least one winter holiday.  Many other hospital staff, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, restaurant workers, and retail workers will put on their scrubs or uniforms and clock into work over the holidays. (And of course, your patients are missing the holidays as well and they’re sick and in the hospital on top of that.) If nothing else, remember that you’re not alone and that you’re helping other people—and possibly even saving lives—in the process.

Your first holiday season as a nurse may not be fun, but you can make it a lot less painful by preparing ahead of time. Follow these eight must-know tips to successfully weather the holidays as a working nurse for the first time.

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