The nursing profession has been riding a roller coaster these past two years as we lived with the pandemic.
In the beginning:
- The World Health Organization designated 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife spotlighting the profession internationally
- Nurses were applauded by New Yorkers who stood on their balconies or hung out the windows of their high-rise apartments every evening at 7 pm to show appreciation for the care nurses gave the growing numbers of COVID patients
- News coverage centered on the plight of the bedside nurse dealing with daily death and inadequate supplies along with the chronic nursing shortage
- Stories surfaced in the media not only about nurses but written by nurses
- Nurses were getting the attention they had long lacked and their contribution to the health of our population was being recognized
When the 7 pm applause from New York City residents faded, nurses still held the attention of the public into 2021. Media coverage showing nurses treating their acutely ill patients led many to seek nursing degrees.
It’s really quite reassuring, and one of the silver linings of this pandemic, that we have a new generation truly inspired to enter health care for altruistic reasons, (Dr. Neha Vapiwala) ‘Silver lining’ of 2020: Medical and nursing schools see increase in applicants, Today, December 22, 2020.
However, nursing schools continue to lack qualified instructors. Faculty is aging without replacements and classes are reduced. While there is an increase in applicants, many are turned away.
Last year, enrollment in baccalaureate and higher-level nursing degree programs increased, but colleges and universities (not including community college nursing programs) still turned away more than 80,000 qualified applicants due to shortages of faculty, clinical sites and other resources, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Yuki Noguchi, The US needs more nurses, but nursing schools don’t have enough slots. NPR Health, Inc., October 25, 2021.
We continue to see nurses leave the profession due to burnout, a persistent problem exacerbated by challenging working conditions. The industry standard of 12-hour work schedules may be more efficient for the hospitals than the nurses.
What we found was that any time after 12 hours, the medical errors that nurses were involved in started to escalate dramatically. And the reason that this was important is we found in our study that most nurses that were scheduled to work 12 hours really were there 13 or 14 hours. Linda Aiken, Conditions that are causing burnout among nurses were a problem before the pandemic, NPR, January 7, 2022.
An additional problem for nurses is that they are pulled away from the bedside to do non-nursing tasks, such as patient status documentation. Sandy Summers, The Truth About Nursing, has suggested that nurses need secretaries or assistants to do this burdensome chore. To this, I can only add Amen.
Going forward into 2022 I am cautiously optimistic, given that the pandemic has demonstrated that nursing does make a positive difference in the health care of individuals and communities, we will begin to see corrections to the problems stated above.
I hope I’m right.