The Ongoing Challenge of Healthcare Staffing Shortages & What To Do About It
By Mary Tolan
May 10, 2022
The “Great Resignation,” an exodus that saw an average of nearly four million Americans leave their jobs each month in 2021, has had wide-ranging implications for all industries, not the least of which is healthcare.
Within the latter sector, the nursing profession in particular is feeling the pinch – an enormous concern, given the fact that nurses account for roughly half of all healthcare jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there will be a need for nearly 200,000 nurses in the U.S., each year between now and the end of the decade, meaning there will be a nine percent increase in need.
That is reflective of a worldwide shortage that was exacerbated by the pandemic but which in actuality predated the onset of COVID-19. While the International Council of Nurses (CN) saw an increased departure rate at 20 percent of its National Nurses Associations (NNAs) in 2020, that same organization believes other factors are in play. The biggest is the fact that the world’s population is growing older, and its needs rising. The other is the fact that many nurses are themselves reaching retirement age.
The end result is that the CN fears that by 2030 the current global nursing workforce of 27 million could be slashed by at least 10 million, and perhaps more.
At present the shortage is particularly acute at U.S. long-term-care facilities, which were on the front lines of the pandemic. According to the AARP, 32 percent of such facilities were short of not just nurses but also aides and assistants, as of March 2022.
Clearly, bold steps are in order. One report focused on the hiring practices of healthcare organizations, and how they need to be revamped. Specifically it suggested using recruitment tech platforms in order to streamline the process, since it takes an average of seven weeks to put a new hire in place, and using data-driven solutions to ensure that an organization’s hiring practices are sound – that there is an understanding of the market and what an ideal candidate looks like.
Another consideration is taking steps to decrease burnout within existing staff – an issue that reached epidemic proportions when the pandemic was at its heights – by ensuring they have a safe, healthy work environment and the necessary support. Finally, there is the matter of encouraging professional development on the part of the workforce, something that is crucial to morale and retention in every walk of life.
Technology can also make life easier for nurses, enabling them to be more efficient and productive. We notably saw that with the rise of telehealth during the pandemic, and the use of electronic medical records predated the outbreak. Now it’s a matter of taking the next step – ensuring interoperability between systems and organizations so that clinicians have all the data they need, whenever they need it. Besides ensuring smoother workflows, that will lead to better patient outcomes as well.
There is a recognition in all quarters of the value of technology. Eight of every 10 nurses view it in a positive light, and in 2021 investment in digital health startups nearly doubled from the year before, to roughly $30 billion.
Clearly, then, the machines can help nurses over the hump. There are glitches to work out, to be sure. But with staffing an ongoing concern, organizations would do well to lean harder on technology to see them through.