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Overcoming the Skills Gap Among Nurses

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July 13, 2021

When providing quality healthcare, it is essential to have a mix of skill sets among your staff. Finding these diverse skills may be more challenging than it seems due to the nursing skills gap currently affecting nursing graduates across the country. Nursing is a highly fast-paced job with new challenges arising daily. The skills gap among healthcare workers makes it difficult for hospitals across the country to fill their open nursing positions. As we see an increase in the nursing shortage, we are also seeing the skills gap affecting universities. This article will explore the causes of the skills gap, the consequences of the gap, and ways healthcare executives and universities can mend the gap. 

Causes of the Nursing Skills Gap

With the nursing shortage expected to increase in the years to come, many hospital leaders are assessing what impact this will have on their staff. The increase is due to older nurses retiring, current RNs burning out, educational resources for new nurses decreasing, and increasing turnover rate. According to the American Association of College of Nursing, the number of nurses leaving the workforce each year has grown steadily from 40,000 in 2010 to nearly 80,000 in 2020.

The expectation is that as the older generation of nurses retires and moves on in their careers, the next generation would step up to the plate and be ready to take over. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, nursing schools rejected over 56,000 qualified applicants in 2017. Not due to lack of effort or academic knowledge of the applicants but because the schools are currently unable to increase class sizes and lack the faculty to provide training.

Although it may seem simple to increase class sizes, many nursing student’s credits and hours come from their clinical training. Due to COVID-19, nursing institutions have had to switch to online learning and virtual simulations, giving nursing students very few opportunities to practice bedside patient care in person. The lack of hands-on experience has caused delays in graduation for nursing students, which have left hospitals scrambling for what they will do to fill these nurse vacancies.

While there is a tremendous demand to hire more nurses, there is also an increase in students who want to study nursing, but they now have limited options. The competition is so high to pursue nursing that many students, once turned away, may look to other career options if they do not get in on the first try.

There are also some extensive criteria faculty need to meet to be hired to teach nursing courses. Most institutions want veteran nurses to conduct their classes as they offer years of experience and guidance for their students. While nursing students have acquired knowledge in school, there are many things about nursing that cannot be taught from a textbook. When it comes to managing patients, healthcare executives may be wary of bringing nursing students with limited clinical experience.  

Consequences of the Nursing Skills Gap

COVID-19 had tremendous ramifications on the Nursing Skills Gap. According to the Avant Healthcare Professionals Trends in Nurse Staffing Study, COVID-19 significantly impacted the onboarding and clinical training nursing graduates received. Due to the influx of patients at hospitals, training became extremely limited. 70% of respondents said COVID-19 impacted their onboarding capabilities, while 63% said COVID-19 increased new graduates’ orientation timelines due to the number of staff working overtime to assist COVID-19 patients.

The survey also shared that 33% of respondents believe COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on the health and well-being of their staff over the coming months. Respondents believe there will be a great loss of bedside nurses to other careers in the years to come. If not managed correctly, this can result in severe consequences and issues for healthcare professionals.

It also doesn’t help that there is so much competition when being admitted into nursing school. When applying, students must look good on paper and be proficient in practice. When it comes to patient care, they must use what they learned in the classroom and clinical training. Although mistakes are common, if there is not an experienced nurse educator there to step in, a patient could be put at risk.  

With more nurses retiring and burning out, there are more vacancies. With more experienced nurses leaving the profession, there is no one available to teach the new generation as a result - the open positions do not get filled. Unless hospitals determine other ways to combat the shortage, this brutal cycle will continue to repeat itself as recent grads fail to address the experience caused by retiring nurses.

Ways to Fix the Nursing Skills Gap

The first step in alleviating the nursing shortage burden is to find qualified and experienced nursing faculty to teach the new generation. According to Daily Nurse, there will be a shortage of over 1,500 nursing educators nationwide. Unfortunately, that leaves faculty about two teachers short per nursing school.

Universities and institutions will have to look for new ways to accommodate more students in their nursing programs, so the nursing shortage does not continue to increase. Some schools have partnered with local hospitals to allow their current hospital staff to teach their new students. At the same time, other institutions are looking to create new programs and certifications that will allow veterans with medical care experience to pursue a career in nursing.  

Healthcare executives can also turn to nurse staffing agencies to fill the nurse vacancies they are currently experiencing. Staffing agencies such as Avant Healthcare Professionals recruit international nurses to work in the U.S. They work on contract (for the agency) at the client’s facility until they convert to the facility’s full-time staff. These contracts can last for two to three years, and their rates can be significantly less than travel nurses. Hiring a nurse staffing agency can fill the gap left due to the nursing shortage, as many nurses will eventually transition to full-time staff members following their contract. As of today, over 90% of Avant’s Healthcare Professionals convert to full-time staff.

The Bottom Line

Nurses who are skilled and enthusiastic are needed to embrace the vital role nurses have within our society. Hospitals will need to work together to ensure the success of future healthcare leaders while also discovering new ways to reduce stress among their staff caused by the shortage. Maintaining proper staffing levels and patient ratios will allow our most experienced nurses to precept and train, thus improving the existing skill gap.

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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