The nursing shortage has had a direct impact on patient care as the nurse-to-patient ratio worsens. The shortage results from a combination of factors including the retirement of baby boomers from the industry, the need for qualified nurse faculty, and nursing school enrollment capacity.
So, what does this nursing shortage mean for patient care?
The Nursing Shortage and who it Impacts
The nursing shortage is not a new topic in the healthcare industry. It is a known fact that the current number of active nurses in the United States cannot meet the demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15 percent by 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.
The nursing shortage is primarily driven by an aging population and the opioid epidemic. The increasing number of patients, particularly the aging ‘Baby Boomer’ generation with chronic conditions, has led to higher demand for healthcare services. The opioid epidemic has also contributed to the need for skilled nurses to care for patients with complex needs and longer hospital stays.
The responsibilities of a registered nurse range from administering medications to helping perform diagnostic test and analyzing those results. These duties often depend on where a nurse works and the patients they work with. As more nurses retire and less enter the field, active nurses are left with the burden.
Effect of Nursing Shortage on Current Nurses
When the nurse-to-patient ratio increases, it compromises the ability of a nurse to perform their duties to the best of their abilities as their workload increases. With fewer nurses on duty, active nurses are left to cover shifts and work longer shift leading to less time with patients, more stress and possibly burning out. A study done at Northwestern University showed that shorthanded nurses under pressure are more likely to make medical errors and also even leave the profession.
Another issue the industry is facing is the gap between qualified educators and student enrollment for nursing school. An astounding number of qualified applicants have been rejected from nursing school due to a need for more nurse educators, clinical and classroom space and financial funding. There are 1,565 qualified nurses needed to accommodate the student-to-faculty ratio.
Hospitals have been offering various compensations to address the nursing shortage. They provide competitive recruitment strategies, including sign-on bonuses, improved benefit packages, and higher hourly wages. Overtime pay has also been increased to accommodate the lack of staff during shifts.
Nurse burnout can negatively impact patient care. Burnt-out nurses may be more prone to making preventable errors, such as medication mistakes or overcrowding in the emergency room. This, in turn, can lead to compromised patient safety and a rise in mortality rates.
Nursing and the Quality of Patient Care
As hospitals and medical centers across the U.S. face a nursing shortage, patient care quality continues to be put in jeopardy. Naturally, nurses operate in high-intensity environments but adding all the factors of the nursing shortage intensifies it. According to reports cited by the American Association of Nurses, a lack of nurse staffing is directly linked to an increase in mortality rates, hospital readmission rates and an increase of hospital infections compared to institutions with an adequate amount of nurses. When there are more patients and fewer nurses, medical error is more likely to occur.
Nursing Shortage and Lack of Time
Nursing starts with the quality of patient care. Patient satisfaction in healthcare starts when those in need feel taken care of. When a patient feels they are not receiving adequate care, they will not recommend the medical facility to another.
With the pressure of a heavy workload due to understaffing, nurses may not have an adequate amount of time to perform tasks required. A lack of time can put effective staff communication at risk. In the medical field, no one professional can do it all. There is a constant need to collaborate with physicians and other staff but when you are running a tight schedule, things can go unsaid.
The nursing shortage has been linked to higher death rates in facilities that are short-staffed. Overworked nurses may overlook or neglect patients, leading to adverse outcomes and increased mortality rates.
Nursing Shortage and Medical Errors
The nursing shortage contributes to both patient care and outcome. High patient-to-nurse ratios have a direct impact on medical errors. An increase in a nurses workload paired with stress puts a patient’s care at risk. Medical errors are often the result of an increase in a nurse’s workload coupled with stress. These medical errors involve administering the wrong medication to the wrong dosage. Because of the high-intensity nature of nurses’ work, it is important they work in environments conducive to this.
The Future of the Nursing Shortage
The fault or the burden of the nursing shortage is not to be put on one specific thing or person. With that being said, it is not an issue that can be fixed overnight. The Bureau of Health Workforce projects a need for 795,700 new RNs by 2030 as more nurses retire and new positions are created. States like California, Texas, and New Jersey will experience the largest deficit.
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