Nurses face various challenges in their day-to-day activities, and one of the most prominent currently is the ongoing healthcare staff shortage. The shortage creates greater stress for nurses but can also affect patient outcomes, workplace safety, and meaningful career growth.
Administrators and industry leaders must commit to meaningful systemic changes to address the issue. However, nurses’ commitment to helping one another throughout this crisis is also essential. By offering support, guidance, and insights in key areas, nurses can empower one another to thrive throughout these challenges.
Communicate About the Causes
It is likely to be clear to all nurses that there are significant staff shortages in the healthcare industry across a range of roles. There are various reasons, including aging populations living longer, which has increased the demand for services. Many professionals are aging out of the industry. Toxic workplace cultures – resulting from stress, insufficient pay, and patient abuse – can also contribute to a lack of new nurses.
Nurses must understand these causes and what is causing specific staffing shortages in their area. With a clear idea of the root problem, it can be easier to have clarity on how to find solutions.
Perhaps most importantly, nurses should communicate with each other about staffing problems. Nurses representing traditionally marginalized demographics or interacting with minority communities can also highlight specific challenges. The better insights everyone can gain about the shortage causes, the more empowered everyone can be when navigating them.
A recent National Council of State Boards of Nursing survey found that 45.1% of nurses reported feeling burned out, contributing to many professionals leaving the industry. While burnout isn’t a diagnosable illness, it does have physical and psychological symptoms that can have long-term negative impacts. Relentless workplace stress and toxic working environments can lead to sleep loss, weight fluctuations, anxiety, and suicidal behavior. It’s no wonder nurses are leaving the profession rather than risk continued burnout.
Certainly, some of the root causes of burnout are related to systemic issues that administrators must address. However, from the perspective of nurses supporting nurses, one of the key contributions professionals can make is encouraging one another to prioritize self-care.
Prioritizing self-care is challenging, particularly given how busy working life as a nurse can be. This only emphasizes the importance of keeping colleagues accountable for taking care of themselves. Nurses must encourage one another to take breaks, eat healthy meals, and engage in hobbies. Committing to looking out for signs of exhaustion and stress in one another can open up conversations leading to effective resources.
Another key form of self-care as a nurse is advocating against inequalities and toxic environments contributing to burnout. Particularly among nurses from marginalized populations, the cumulative effect of microaggressions can be disruptive. One study found that 80% of nurses have witnessed workplace or nursing school discrimination. It is important to talk to one another about the presence of these elements and present a united front in highlighting the problem to administrators and demanding change in the workplace.
Influence Inclusive Recruitment
There are certainly recruitment issues that contribute to the healthcare shortage. It’s important to recognize that one of the most positive ways nurses can help one another address this is to be meaningfully involved in influencing recruitment. After all, no one has better insights into the challenges, benefits, and needs of the nursing industry than those who are a part of it. Importantly, nurses from minority backgrounds can ensure recruitment approaches are more accessible and welcoming to a wider proportion of the population. This can help bridge the labor gap and bring much-needed diverse cultural perspectives into the industry.
It can be helpful to encourage administrators to engage in meaningful community outreach. This may involve arranging formal opportunities for experienced nurses from various backgrounds to visit schools or community organizations. They can then discuss the options and provide practical advice on pursuing the path.
During outreach, it’s vital to share nurses’ experiences that have made later life career switches to the industry or pursued educational courses despite tough socioeconomic conditions. Nurses can also act as much-needed mentors among still under-represented minority communities. One recent study found that only 19.4% of registered nurses are from minority backgrounds. These outreach efforts give community members a sense that people with similar challenges can thrive in the industry, which may prompt engagement.
It can also be wise for nurses to have frank discussions with human resources (HR) personnel about facilities’ current recruitment processes. It’s common for systemic biases to result in recruiters overlooking ways to reach more diverse candidates. There can also be cultural hurdles that HR staff must be aware of. Providing these insights and suggesting solutions can help more potential nurses enter the sector.
Nurses committing to supporting one another through the healthcare staff shortage is essential. Communicating with one another about the causes of the shortages can aid well-informed approaches to addressing the issues. Promoting mutual self-care – including advocating against toxic workplaces – can help mitigate the potential for burnout. Engaging in more inclusive community recruitment can also positively impact greater nursing numbers and more diverse professionals in the field.
Though nurses’ contributions can be invaluable, it’s also important to take only part of the responsibility for meaningful change on their shoulders. Nurses are already overworked and face significant career stress. Recognizing personal limitations, setting strong boundaries, and seeking solid resources are essential for navigating this difficult time.