Big IdeaThe quality of healthcare is on the backs of our nurses.Christopher Barsotti
By The Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing healthcare challenges around the world, heavily impacting the nursing profession and creating a healthcare crisis for us all. This crisis among nurses can adversely impact care and outcomes in treatment settings in every community; from hospitals to schools to clinics, long-term care, home-based care and community-based practices, as nurses are the first line of defense in detecting illness, providing patient education, administering medicine and vaccinations, and supporting medical procedures.
The Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation recently hosted a conversation on this crisis at Aspen Ideas: Health, moderated by nurse economist, health tech catalyst and host of the SEE YOU NOW podcast Shawna Butler. The panel featured Karen M. Dale, RN, MSN, Market President and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for AmeriHealth Caritas’ Medicaid managed care organization in Washington, D.C.; Christopher Friese, Professor and Director of the Center for Improving Patient and Population Health at the University of Michigan School of Nursing; and Christopher Barsotti, an emergency physician serving rural New England and upstate New York and Director of AFFIRM at The Aspen Institute.
The panelists highlighted some bleak stats: with rising levels of burnout, 32% of nurses consider leaving the profession; hospital RN vacancy rates are at 17% and accelerating; and it is projected that by 2030, with the rate of nurses leaving, we will lose two million collective years of nursing expertise each year in the U.S.. In addition, a lack of nursing educators means 80,000 qualified prospective students are being turned away each year.
The conversation went beyond the transactional need to simply recruit and retain nurses, and instead focused on what can be done to drive real change and create a supportive healthcare work environment where nurses can grow and thrive.
Our panelists offered solutions that covered 3 key areas:
1. Create more flexible models of care for nurses
The panelists noted that nurses are constantly being asked to do more with less and highlighted innovative ways to improve care while reducing burden. This includes enabling nurses to focus on direct patient care, by shifting non-clinical tasks to Certified Nursing Assistants or applying team-based care models. It could also include leveraging technology to provide supportive remote monitoring and care for patients, or leveraging technology to reduce administrative burden. Our focus should be on how we can best support and enable nurses to do what they do best – provide direct patient care.
2. Champion career development opportunities and varied career path opportunities for nursing
Nurses must be shown they have ways to move forward, so their careers don’t feel stagnant. Nurses should have an ongoing opportunity to build and strengthen their skills, through cross-training, opportunities to explore work in different units or treatment settings, and opportunities to work and grow in non-traditional areas where their expertise and skill-sets could be applied, like HR, finance or IT. Health systems can also offer tuition assistance for nurses to advance their nursing education. Experienced nurses could become preceptors/mentors to nursing students and newly-hired nurses as a way to leverage their invaluable experience and flatten the learning curve for new nurses.
3. Actively support the safety of the nursing workforce
There is also an urgent need for leaders to stand up for nurses who experience violence, abuse, or discrimination in the workplace. A lack of support pushes nurses to leave the industry entirely, Friese said. “The ball is really in [employers’] court – look really carefully at ameliorating those immediate concerns and stop the tide of losses.”
“We need to reimagine the workplace,” Dale said, “so nurses can see the opportunity.”
The views and opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.