COVID-19’s Impact on the Nursing Profession
The end of 2019 signaled the beginning of a new paradigm in healthcare. The World Health Organization named 2020 the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife to highlight the vital role nurses play in healthcare delivery. Global health organizations sparked this initiative before COVID-19 emerged, and with cases continuing to spike across the globe, the role of nurses has never been more critical.
But the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and similar initiatives do more than celebrate the hard work and dedication of the largest healthcare profession. These initiatives also bring hospital and health system leadership attention to what nurses need to continue delivering optimal care.
AMN Healthcare’s survey results show that, by and large, nurses are proud of their careers. “Most nurses love the work they do,” says Beverly Malone, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, CEO at the National League for Nursing. “That's why we choose to be a nurse.” But this isn’t always reflected in job satisfaction: 42% of survey respondents are only “somewhat satisfied” with their current job, and only 44% of nurses agreed that they had sufficient time at their current job to spend with patients.
Due to staffing shortages, nurses working the COVID-19 floor in hard-hit areas continue to deal with an intense workload of acute care patients. “Nurses require both the human and physical resources necessary to carry out the nursing process,” says Suzanne Crincoli, MSN, RN, Vice President of Clinical Quality at CareThrough. Integrating temporary/traveling nurses and identifying new staffing models can allow nurses more freedom to give patients the full care and attention they need.
Nurse staffing has been a problem since long before COVID-19. In 2019, 52% of respondents agreed that the shortage is worse than five years ago, compared with 48% in 2017 and 37% in 2015. Baby boomer nurses are on the verge of retirement, and new nurses are not coming in at matching rates. The aging U.S. population is compounding the problem, and the need for acute care will continue to increase.
Hospitals and health systems will need to get creative with staffing and care delivery as they continue to respond to COVID, whether it’s bringing back retirees part-time or increasing telehealth services. Seek out ideas from nurse representatives as you consider different options and scenarios. “Nurses need to be in leadership positions, helping to make decisions about what nurses need, listening to nurses and understanding what they're hearing,” Malone says.
Nearly half, or 46%, of surveyed nurses rated safety practices among the top influences on patient care quality, followed by staffing levels and the use of electronic health records (each at 45%). During COVID-19, safety is especially critical, as staffing can be affected if nurses must be quarantined. Ensure that nurses have the right protective equipment to be and feel safe. Have backup plans for staffing to ensure care continuity in the event of nurse exposure and quarantine.
Ensure that your nursing staff has the right electronic tools to optimize their workflow, and survey your team to identify their specific needs. “Healthcare systems need to prioritize understanding the needs of their nursing staff,” says HR & Beyond CEO Ivelices Thomas. “Gain an understanding of what’s important to your existing workforce and create a strategy around that.”
Nurses at hospitals and health systems face many challenges during COVID-19, but the results of the 2019 AMN Healthcare survey illuminate a path forward. By listening to your nursing staff and prioritizing their needs, you can empower them to provide better patient care. Embrace the new paradigm of elevating the nursing profession, and empower your nursing workforce to improve community health.