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The nursing profession is a multifaceted group that works in a variety of clinical and non-clinical roles. As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, the state of the nursing profession has a significant impact on the state of healthcare as a whole. Assessing where nurses find themselves provides insight into what’s going well and what could improve in the world of working health professionals.

Vivian Health’s Healthcare Workforce Report for 2024 is one such glimpse into the state of the nursing workforce, and its observations are worth noting and learning from. 

The Tipping Point? 

In Vivian’s report, healthcare professionals’ attitudes about their careers and well-being is examined in detail based on responses from 863 individuals. With an aging population and the end of the emergent aspects of the pandemic, those who work in healthcare are assessing where they find themselves in this new chapter. The authors of the study introduce it thus:

Americans’ health depends on the well-being of our healthcare workforce. Our nation’s health workers face a mental health crisis, as spotlighted in a CDC Vital Signs report in October 2023. Mental health and burnout seem to be prevalent among healthcare workers, making it more urgent than ever to have consistent, proactive efforts to bring stress levels down in their workplaces. Healthcare professionals told Vivian Health that means providing more flexibility, work-life balance and lower staffing ratios (i.e., fewer patients per clinician).

“In tandem with all the above challenges, the need for healthcare and healthcare staff continues to rise as more baby boomers reach retirement age. While Gen Z began finding their footing in the workforce in 2023, their attitudes toward work immensely differ from previous generations. Inadequate and outdated nurse retention strategies have added to the shortage of nurses in particular, putting the future of healthcare at a tipping point. The respondents in this report repeatedly identified quality of life — both in and out of the workplace — as their highest priority.”

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The Breakdown

The following are noteworthy threads in terms of some of the report’s main findings, and the data show that we’re not doing as well as we could be.  

Burnout 

26% of respondents indicated that they are high on the burnout scale. 21% are a 4 out of 5, and 25% put themselves at 3. Sadly, 39% said their burnout is worse than this time last year, with 33% saying it was the same. 

These numbers indicate pervasive burnout, a condition that can lead to unhappy nurses, suboptimal patient care, and nurse attrition from the workplace or from the workforce entirely. 

Many survey participants have taken more time off, moved to less stressful specialties, switched to remote work, returned to school, or changed to part-time. 

Regarding employers’ response to staff burnout, 83% said their employer has done nothing to reduce burnout experienced by nurse employees.

The numbers don’t lie — we’re truly facing a mental health crisis among nurses and their multidisciplinary colleagues in these post-pandemic days. The survey found that 46% of nurses had experienced clinical depression in the last 12 months, with only 29% actually booking a visit with a mental health professional. 

Workplace Violence

Violence in the workplace is no joke. With 42% of survey participants reporting feeling unsafe at work and 47% actually experiencing workplace violence against themselves or colleagues, the statistics reveal something amiss. 

Patients or their families perpetrated the vast majority of reported violence, the very people whom nurses are trying to serve.

Echoing the perception that employers have done little, if anything, to address burnout, 43% stated that the administration had ignored complaints of violence. On the bright side, 42% said they had seen less violence in the last year.

Finances

While many articles about nurse wellness fail to mention finances, financial well-being is worth paying attention to. The study authors wrote: “In the face of growing inflation, ‘side hustles‘ have become common with clinical workers, as 35% of respondents reported having them. Half these side hustles occur within healthcare-related roles, such as per diem work. This presents an opportunity to satisfy this income demand by providing alternative, flexible work options.”

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With 60% of nurses surveyed switching to higher-paying roles in 2023, it’s notable that only 30% changed where they live to lower their cost of living. Most participants had side hustles in the healthcare sector, with a smattering pursuing more income through the gig economy (e.g., Uber, Doordash), entrepreneurship, hospitality, the beauty industry, and other pursuits.

Parenthood and Caregiving

51% of those surveyed identified as caregivers or parents, and a quarter stated that their employer was most likely trying to meet their needs as caregivers through flexible hours. The majority didn’t give employers high marks for trying to make it easier for their employees, although most stated that where they choose to work is influenced by their responsibilities as caregivers.

With statistics that likely echo the struggles of workers in other industries, more than half reported not being able to find adequate childcare or caregiving services. Almost half had taken a break from work to care for family members, with most taking a break of less than six months.

Nursing Generations Speak 

The Vivian workforce survey found that, of those reporting clinical depression in the last 12 months, the breakdown was as follows: 

  • Gen Z: 56%
  • Millennials: 59%
  • Baby Boomers: 36%

In terms of seeking out mental health care: 

  • Gen Z: 28%
  • Millennials: 40%
  • Baby Boomers: 21%

In regards to burnout, those who said their level of burnout was better than one year prior: 

  • Gen Z: 44%
  • Millennials: 33%
  • Gen X: 28%
  • Baby Boomers: 22%

With respondents from across the lifespan who were 82% female and 18% male, the population surveyed was not necessarily racially representative: 

  • White: 62%
  • Black: 19%
  • Multiple: 8%
  • Hispanic: 6%
  • Asian: 3%
  • American Indian or Alaskan Native: 1%
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.2%
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Nursing Has Some Work to Do

As we can see, Vivian Health’s Healthcare Workforce Report for 2024 offers a snapshot of nurses’ well-being on multiple levels. With the “Heroes Work Here” banners and glowing news reports about nurses’ hard work at the height of the pandemic faded into a distant memory, nurses obviously need their employers—and possibly legislators and other leaders—to sit up and take notice.  

An ongoing nursing shortage, combined with continued workforce attrition, does the smooth running of the healthcare system no favors, and we risk a great deal by burying our heads in the sand.

Nurse mental health and overall well-being are meaningful measures of the functionality of our healthcare system and the delivery of patient care, and we ignore problems like nurse burnout at our peril.

Is your employer paying attention? Are your needs being met? If not, we have a lot of work to do, and if we can speak up and make our needs known, perhaps someone with the power to effect change will actually listen. 

Keith Carlson
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