7 Long-Term Consequences of the Nursing Shortage

There are numerous long-term consequences of the nursing shortage we are currently experiencing.

For instance, it negatively impacts patient care by increasing waiting times and reducing the quality of medical assistance.

The nursing shortage also reduces employee morale and boosts turnover.

In worst-case scenarios, facilities experience rising medical errors, more significant patient risks, and a higher mortality rate.

This article covers the various consequences of the nursing shortage to understand the causes and impacts on society.

1. Longer Patient Wait Times | Lower Quality of Care

In short-staffed healthcare facilities, fewer nurses can accommodate patients on time.

As a result, patients experience longer wait times and briefer encounters with healthcare professionals.

Nurses who manage additional patients experience increased stress.

It’s due to them facing higher work demands with little time to manage responsibilities or communicate effectively.

Patients also experience dissatisfaction because they receive less attention and short sessions when they see a healthcare specialist.

Most nurses prefer to spend more time with a single patient to ensure they provide adequate care and complete their tasks.

However, it’s significantly more challenging to help each patient when required to manage multiple people simultaneously.

It results in a lower quality of care with less personalization, and nurses may even miss vital information due to the short encounter.

2. Increased Burnout Among Healthcare Workers

Employee enthusiasm is vital in healthcare settings, especially in high-stress, fast-paced environments.

Nurses have numerous responsibilities related to patient care, collaboration, time management, and leadership.

They also operate different tools, hazardous materials, and medical equipment that require attention and effort.

As a result, nurses must remain well rested, positive, and ready to handle the work responsibilities that come with the job.

Nurses who regularly experience burnout have low morale, high turnover rates, and preventable medical errors.

In addition, nurses have a lower quality of life outside work from the underlying stress and exhaustion they face daily.

The nursing shortage exacerbates nurse burnout leading to more stressful and less fulfilling work.

3. More Significant Medical Errors

The nursing shortage forces fewer nurses to take on more patients and medical responsibilities.

As a result, the opportunity for medical errors increases.

Healthcare is highly time sensitive, especially in emergencies requiring extensive care.

Minor errors have enormous consequences, and less staff negatively impacts a nurse’s ability to provide adequate, timely care.

Every situation is unique, and nurses must understand their patient’s needs to take appropriate steps and ensure their safety.

Unfortunately, every additional patient a nurse needs to accommodate simultaneously, the higher the risk for medical errors.

Nurses administer medications, provide direct care, manage medical records, maintain sanitary gear/space, and assist physicians.

However, the risk of infection, medication/diagnostic errors, failure to obtain consent, and other mistakes increases when nurses experience burnout.

Common Medical Errors:

  • Medication errors
  • Failure to obtain consent
  • Infection
  • Diagnostic errors
  • Improper use of medical devices
  • Communication errors
  • Medical record mistakes

4. Higher Morbidity Rate

Occasionally, mistakes occur that can cause the patient or even employee death.

It often results from burnout and workload due to inadequate staffing and support.

Nurses required to manage higher patient counts increase the risk of various life-threatening errors.

For instance, healthcare workers may administer the wrong medication, dosage, or frequency.

Inadequate handling of medication can result in adverse health consequences or death.

Due to stress, some healthcare workers may also fail to monitor life-saving equipment regularly or sanitize medical tools.

Those who manage patients adequately risk severe infection or illness from a compromised immune system.

5. Elevated Turnover Rate

Managing employee retention and turnover is a challenge every employer encounters.

The nursing shortage makes it incredibly frustrating to provide adequate patient care and manage increasing workloads.

Rural areas are even more problematic because replacing nurses in these locations is more challenging.

Busy hospitals attract more employees by offering better financial incentives to keep them employed or hire travel nurses.

In addition, busy healthcare facilities have additional financial resources than smaller hospitals.

Nevertheless, many institutions face a high turnover rate regardless of their location.

Some healthcare facilities turn to travel nursing to staff their hospitals and provide sufficient patient care.

It helps them deal with unexpected or challenging staff needs but costs the healthcare facility more money.

6. Strained School System

Getting into nursing school is becoming increasingly difficult in some locations.

It’s due to the increased need for qualified nurses in the workforce and insufficient university/educational help.

Nursing schools often lack sufficient educators and resources to accommodate all qualified students.

As a result, the competition to enter nursing school increases while seating remains relatively limited.

Every year thousands of students are turned down for not meeting specific tough school requirements.

Even those who technically meet the requirements may not enter if a university doesn’t have enough seating.

The limited seating issue results from the lack of nurse educators to accommodate student needs.

Many nurses make more substantial salaries in non-academic professions and prefer not to take a pay cut.

Becoming an instructor or educator also requires earning a post-graduate degree, which many nurses aren’t interested in pursuing.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, approximately 8,471 qualified applicants were not accepted into the MSN program.

Three thousand one hundred fifty-seven qualified applications for the doctoral program also did not gain entry into the program.

The number is significantly higher for registered nursing students, with schools rejecting 66,274 applicants.

Based on these statistics, many nursing jobs remain unfilled due to inadequate academic resources.

7. More Expensive Medical Bills

Turnover is very costly for hospitals and healthcare facilities.

They must hire and train new nurses and pay for travel staff or foreigners to meet the healthcare facility’s patient needs.

Some hospitals also reimburse tuition, pay high salaries, and offer additional incentives to entice nurses to work for them.

Hospitals want to deliver exceptional patient care and maintain employees long-term.

However, many facilities are also businesses that need to operate at a profit.

As a result, the more it costs hospitals to operate and hire staff, the more likely it is to be reflected in patient invoices.

The nursing shortage negatively impacts all areas of healthcare.

It impacts hospitals and patients financially, increases medical risks, causes employee stress, and adversely affects the healthcare system.