Nursing labor shortage

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, it upended life as we knew it for so much of the population. Many states and cities locked down, while many employees went home to work remotely and perhaps enjoy a slower pace of life. 

But it was quite the opposite for those in the nursing field. When everyone else hunkered down, they answered the call and stepped up to care for their communities, sometimes working round the clock to treat both COVID-19 patients and those with other health issues who had tested negative for COVID-19. 

Nurses had a front seat to the devastation wrought by COVID-19. At times, they were the lifeline between patients and families, facilitating phone calls and iPad chats during the time when visitors were not allowed into hospitals.   

All this came with a hefty price for many in the nursing workforce.

The extreme workload, staffing issues, and severe devastation wrought by COVID-19 took both an emotional and physical toll on nurses and led many to reconsider their career options. And while the pandemic may be waning in the minds of many, it’s far from over for nurses as the health industry continues to face unparalleled demands in COVID-19’s wake.

These demands have resulted in what many are calling the Great Resignation. According to a survey from the American Academy of Critical Care Nurses, 66% of respondents feel their experiences during the pandemic have caused them to consider leaving nursing.

Yet even before the pandemic, nursing attrition was an issue, and it has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the healthcare sector has lost nearly half a million workers since February 2020. It projects nearly 200,000 nurse openings each year through 2029, including retirements and workplace exits. And now, survey data indicate that more nurses than projected are likely to leave the profession due to their experiences during the pandemic. 

A recent survey from Incredible Health found that over a third (34%) of the nurses surveyed said they will probably quit their job by the end of 2022. 

So, what’s behind the attrition? A high-stress environment and burnout were cited by 44% of nurses as their reasons for wanting to leave. Benefits and pay were cited as the second-leading cause (27%). Nearly a third (32%) of nurses surveyed plan to leave the field altogether or retire.

The risk of burnout due to long hours, the pressure that comes with making quick decisions, and the strain of caring for patients with poor outcomes have long been present in the nursing workforce. However, the pandemic has elevated them to dangerous levels. These working conditions pose a real threat to keeping the healthcare workforce functioning and are expected to linger long after COVID-19. 

If your healthcare organization is experiencing turnover due to high rates of burnout and stress, Healing Breaths may be able to help. We work with healthcare institutions to address clinician burnout issues, promote a culture of well-being, and improve team cohesiveness. Click here to speak with one of our wellness account executives about evidence-based stress reduction programs for nurses.

A November 2021 survey from McKinsey and Company found that nurses who were more likely to leave the profession placed outsize importance on manageable workloads. At the same time, those more likely to stay placed outsize importance on doing meaningful work, having caring and trusting teammates as well as a sense of belonging, and feeling engaged by their work. Safety, flexibility, work–life balance, compensation, and feeling valued were among factors with approximately equal weight in each group.

National Nurses United found in a survey that 43% of hospital nurses had more trouble sleeping than before the pandemic. More than 61% of hospital nurses felt more stressed than before the pandemic. 57% of hospital nurses felt more anxious and 51% felt more sad or depressed. 

At the same time, the pandemic may have given rise to another factor that is contributing to the nursing attrition – moral injury. This term has most commonly been associated with war zones, but has recently also been used to describe the levels of mental health distress felt by nurses and healthcare workers early in the pandemic. Moral injury can be defined as the psychological, biological, spiritual, behavioral, and social impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. 

Since it was first introduced in 2009, the research on moral injury has focused almost exclusively on military veterans. But a recent study sought to compare patterns of potential moral injury between post-9/11 military combat veterans and healthcare workers (HCWs) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although more research is needed, the study concluded that the  potential for moral injury is relatively high among combat veterans and COVID-19 HCWs, with deleterious consequences for mental health and burnout.

For nurses who may be experiencing burnout, Healing Breaths provides strategies for re-energizing and reinvigorating themselves. Contact us today to speak to an expert and learn how these amazing techniques work. 

Understanding things like burnout and moral injury are key to keeping the nursing workforce intact and preventing even greater attrition. The latter could have dire consequences for the healthcare industry.

“Nurses leaving the profession will bring our healthcare system to its knees,” Amanda Bettencourt, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses’ president-elect, said in a September 2021 press release. “You or your mother, brother, child or dear friend may suffer alone without a nurse beside them providing care. This is the last thing we want to have happen. It is avoidable, and it is the public who can help take the pressure off our overwhelmed nurses at the bedside.”

Throughout the pandemic, hospital leaders and executives have stepped up in many ways and have gone to great lengths to stem the tide of retirements and resignations. 

From increased wages and childcare vouchers to housing vouchers and extended paid time off, executives have worked hard to support and recognize their nursing staff.

But it may not always be enough. 

Despite all that’s been done, sometimes the factors that are driving nurses to leave the field are out of a hospital’s control. It’s no secret that nurses and other healthcare workers have long experienced workplace violence, and it’s only gotten worse with the pandemic. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that healthcare workers accounted for 73% of all nonfatal, violence-related, workplace injuries and illnesses. In 2019, registered nurses experienced more than three times the rate of such injuries compared to other occupations. Since 2010, the overall rate of workplace violence injuries in hospitals has increased 95%.

In National Nurses United’s 2020 and 2021 survey data on workplace violence, nurses and other healthcare workers reported experiencing workplace violence at high rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 8 in 10 healthcare workers (82%) reported experiencing at least one type of workplace violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) reported having been verbally threatened during the COVID-19 pandemic and one-third (33%) reported being verbally harassed based on their sex or appearance. Nurses and other healthcare workers reported frequent occurrences of physical violence, including being pinched, scratched, slapped, punched, kicked, and having objects thrown at them.

Frustration with the healthcare system has often been misdirected at nurses, forcing many to reconsider and step away from their jobs, unable to continue to bear the brunt any longer. 

Healing Breaths can help decrease burnout for healthcare professionals and turnover for institutions. Our techniques can ultimately lead to better patient outcomes. To learn more about how Healing Breaths can help reduce burnout in your place of work, call 628.280.6527 or email today.