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How Does the Nursing Shortage Impact Patient Care?

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August 11, 2022

Healthcare Professionals throughout the country have been faced with the overwhelming causes of the ongoing nursing shortage. Although nursing is becoming one of the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S., the nursing shortage and its impact is a significant issue facing healthcare facilities. Despite the appeal of a nursing career, the ongoing shortage continues to loom over hospitals throughout the country. There has been a negative impact not only on nurses and healthcare executives, but we will also examine how the nursing shortage affects patient safety and patient care.

Current State of Nursing Shortage

The current state of the nursing shortage has healthcare facilities desperate for experienced and qualified registered nurses to meet the demand for increased patient care. As the amount of nursing jobs continues to grow and resources among hospitals continue to deplete, healthcare leaders will need to do what they can to alleviate the stress of the shortage. Currently, more nursing jobs are available than any other profession in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 9% job growth rate for registered nurses until 2030.

The ever-growing nursing shortage has become more evident in hospitals across the U.S. as COVID-19 placed a spotlight on the overwhelming gaps in healthcare. There is a tremendous demand for bedside nurses and nursing students nationwide. Although 1.1 million nurses are needed to replace retired nurses in the U.S., this is not only a nationwide issue. Globally there is a need for about 13 million nurses.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare occupations are expected to increase by 15% through 2029. The leading cause of the lack of nurses has been connected to the overall surge of older nurses choosing to retire early and move on to new careers despite the years they spent working in hospitals. The number of nurses' jobs will only increase, but unfortunately, the number of available nurses will not.

Who is Impacted by the Nursing Shortage

The ongoing nursing shortage impacts healthcare organizations, nursing school programs, and patient care. Nursing programs with limited time to train their students were derailed because of COVID-19. Nurse educators are among the highest number of individuals in the nursing profession retiring early, which has weighed extremely heavy on nurse programs. Even if nursing schools can train students, healthcare facilities are reluctant to hire new, moderately trained nurses without tenured nurses available to assist and supervise them. Due to the lack of faculty, U.S. nursing programs rejected more than 80,000 candidates for their programs in 2019, according to the AACN.

More importantly, the nursing shortage's impact on patient care has been even more significant. Hospitals are now dealing with fewer nurses to take care of patients, which can lead to errors and higher mortality rates of patients. Hospitals' patient satisfaction rates are also being affected, which will only increase dissatisfaction among nurses in their careers.

Prompt action is going to need to be taken by nurse managers and healthcare professionals to make sure patient care is the top priority for nurses and nursing professionals. Currently, the demand for nurses outweighs the supply. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there will be a need for 3.6 million registered nurses by the year 2030. Worsened by COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Health has declared the nursing shortage a national crisis.

Effects of the Nursing Shortage on Patient Care

Healthcare workers spend a lot of one-on-one time with their patients. Their patients trust them to perform at the highest level and rely on them to deliver safe patient care. Studies have shown a strong correlation between inadequate patient care and the nursing shortage. It goes past good patient care as some are more concerned about patient safety and potential medical errors. Here are ways the nursing shortage impacts patient care:

  • Low Patient Satisfaction Scores
  • Overcrowded Departments and Limited Staff
  • Decreased Quality of Care
  • Medical Errors by Novice Nurses
  • Increased Patient Mortality Rate

These are being affected due to the increased intensity of a nurse's workload. The amount of work given to nurses leaves them at risk of committing medical errors while caring for their patients. Nurses are being asked to care for more patients because of hospitals' inadequate staffing ratios. There is also the potential for interruptions to occur when caring for patients, which could ultimately cause errors in patient safety. Nurses are subjected to excessive overtime, double shifts, and longer back-to-back days with little rest. If nurses are not adequately taking care of themselves, the results for patients may be fatal.

Strategies to Solve the Nursing Shortage

Nurses are experiencing increased workloads at their facilities due to the inadequate supply of nurses and reduced staffing. Finding solutions to establish proper staffing levels will lighten their workloads and prevent high nurse turnover rates. Nurse leaders should take some of the work off their nurses and create more equal schedules so they can provide equivalent care to all their patients while trying to fill the gaps in their healthcare staff.

The heavy workload of hospital nurses is a significant problem for the American health care system. Nurses are experiencing higher workloads than ever before due to four main reasons: (1) increased demand for nurses, (2) inadequate supply of nurses, (3) reduced staffing and increased overtime and (4) reduction in patient length of stay.

Some countries are now encouraging retired nurses to return to the profession, if not full-time, as volunteer nurses to assist with the overwhelming number of patients and help teach the younger incoming nurses. The latter have been left with limited nurses to train them; having volunteer nurses return to the bedside allows them to train new nurses.

International Nurses are also a viable option for hospitals affected by the nursing shortage. Healthcare executives are concerned about patient care because of the limited number of available staff to care for patients. International nurses such as those hired from Avant Healthcare Professionals are contracted for two-to-three-year assignments at a hospital, allowing for more stability and retention at the unit level. This can also alleviate the pressures on current nurses as many convert to full-time roles at their facilities.

The Bottom Line

Patient safety should be the primary concern of any hospital and healthcare staff, especially during the nursing shortage crisis. Healthcare professionals and executives will need to explore additional avenues to determine how they can put their patient care and safety at the forefront. That begins with ensuring their staff is taken care of and that workload is properly divided so nurses can feel more at ease in their positions and take better care of their patients. They will continue to serve their patients as adequately as they should.

About Avant Healthcare Professionals

Need nurses? Avant Healthcare Professionals is the premier staffing specialist for internationally educated registered nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists. Avant has placed thousands of international healthcare professionals across U.S. facilities to help improve the continuity of their care, fill hard-to-find specialties, and increase patient satisfaction, revenue and HCAHPS scores. Avant is a Joint Commission accredited staffing agency and founding member of the American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment (AAIHR). Avant Healthcare Professionals is a member of the Jackson Healthcare® family of companies.


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