The Nursing Shortage | How It Impacts Patient Care

A nursing shortage occurs when the demand for qualified nurses exceeds the supply of existing nurses.

Consequently, existing nurses experience more burnout and have fewer resources to provide quality healthcare to patients.

The nursing shortage has numerous consequences on employee morale and patient care.

For instance, it significantly increases patient wait times and reduces the quality of care.

It also stresses nurses because they have less help to provide adequate treatments, support, and interventions.

Healthcare centers turn down new patients to care for their existing patients in the worst situations.

The nursing shortage will only expand as the economy ages and populations continue to grow.

In addition, the influx of nurses reaching retirement and limited nursing school resources stain the healthcare system.

This article examines the causes of the nursing shortage, its impact on nurses, and its effects on the economy.

It also explores potential solutions to improve patient care outcomes, employee morale, and the healthcare system.

Causes of The Nursing Shortage

Many factors play an essential role in the development of the nursing shortage.

It includes an influx of retiring nurses, education issues, population growth, and an expanding middle/elderly class.

The following list displays some of the most significant issues impacting the nursing shortage.

  • An increasing number of nurses reaching retirement age
  • Increasing population size/age
  • Education issues limiting the number of students able to participate in the nursing program
  • Healthcare reform

Retirement | Aging Work Force

As more registered nurses reach retirement age, the nursing shortage gap will continue to expand.

In turn, healthcare facilities will require more nursing school graduates to fill the void.

Unfortunately, a lack of educational facilities makes it challenging to replace the retiring workforce at a good pace.

The caring workforce is partially due to the significant population increase during the baby boomer generation.

It enabled many young aspiring nurses to enter the workforce eventually.

Accordingly, the same baby boomer generation is retiring from the healthcare profession, creating a nursing shortage.

Education Issues

One of the leading causes of the growing nursing shortage is the inability to educate enough students each year.

Nursing schools turn down thousands of students yearly due to a lack of qualified teachers.

As a result, the healthcare system struggles to replenish its supply of registered nurses promptly.

It also stresses students who want to become registered nurses by delaying their entry into nursing school.

The issue isn’t finding enough students; it’s accepting and educating all qualified students who apply for the program.

Increasing Population Size/Age

As the population grows and more people enter old age, the need for nurses and healthcare resources will also increase.

Unfortunately, this creates a gap between middle-aged/older adults and the number of nurses available to provide care.

Without a steady increase in nurses, treating patients requiring medical care will become more challenging.

A lack of adequate medical staff will also reduce the quality of patient care among those admitted to hospitals.

Lastly, it will increase nurse burnout and stress, raising employee turnover.

Healthcare Reform

Healthcare reform can lead to positive and negative consequences for those the nursing field and the economy.

On one end, healthcare reform provides more individuals with primary healthcare.

As a result, it helps improve society by giving healthcare to people who otherwise would have no medical support.

Conversely, providing healthcare to more people means more individuals requesting medical care.

More patients going to understaffed hospitals and healthcare centers puts more stress on the nursing shortage.

The difficulties healthcare face is the increasing of patients without an increase in the number of qualified nurses.

Finding a balance between providing healthcare to more people and ensuring there are enough nurses to accommodate the growing demand is challenging.

Therefore, educational institutions and government aid must accommodate students to help them enter nursing.

How The Shortage Impacts Healthcare Workers

The problems nurses experience due to the growing shortage create unwanted stress and burnout.

The increased stress leads to medical errors, career dissatisfaction, and physical, emotional, and mental fatigue.

It also negatively impacts their ability to provide adequate, timely care and support for their patients.

Issues Nurses Face Due To The Shortage:

  • Increased mental and emotional stress
  • Increased opportunities for work-related errors
  • High demands placed on the body
  • Lack of career satisfaction and appreciation
  • Scheduling conflicts
  • Lack of childcare

Increased Stress

Healthcare facilities require nurses to care for additional patients when they don’t have enough qualified staff.

Assisting extra patients can occur due to an influx of people, employees calling out of work, or unforeseen issues.

Unfortunately, a nursing shortage creates long-term issues with patient care that extend beyond occasional events.

As nurses get assigned more patients, their ability to manage and treat each person declines.

In addition, the increased workload creates more mental and emotional stress.

Nurses must treat their patient’s needs, manage medical data, coordinate with staff and handle various medical tasks.

However, managing tasks becomes more complicated with every additional patient they need to accommodate.

Being overworked and understaffed leads to work-related mistakes and medical errors.

Besides that, the shortage creates physical stress due to decreased break periods and extended bodily demands.

Standing/walking for extended periods, constantly moving patients and equipment, and receiving fewer breaks put unnecessary stress on the body.

Over time it leads to physical discomfort/pain, injuries, illness, compromised immune systems, and other health issues.

Increased Medical Errors

Increases in medical errors often result from fatigue, stress, and confusion due to managing too many tasks.

Concentrating effectively on critical medical tasks is severely reduced when nurses are stressed and tired.

Even those who try their hardest to be accurate and effective will see their work diminish.

In healthcare, accuracy is paramount.

Nevertheless, a nurse’s ability to remain effective and error-free reduces when constantly working long hours with minimal staff.

Schedule Conflicts

Nursing shortages lead to scheduling conflicts, impacting a nurse’s personal/social life and health.

Dealing with unexpected schedule changes and working additional hours impact a nurse’s performance.

It reduces theirability to perform work duties effectively and manage their personal lives.

From a personal perspective, it reduces a nurse’s ability to form individual plans and receive adequate rest.

Spending time with loved ones, enjoying personal activities, and completing at-home chores are also more challenging.

From a work-related perspective, schedule conflicts increase stress, create staffing conflicts, and lead to employee dissatisfaction.

Overall, it negatively impacts work-life balance and performance.

Employee Dissatisfaction

A lack of support and nursing staff increases mental, emotional, and physical stress.

It also significantly increases employee dissatisfaction.

Some nurses become dissatisfied with their work due to a lack of appreciation.

Increasing work duties with no acknowledgment of their efforts and no support causes nurses to feel tired and dissatisfied.

The less satisfied nurses are, the worse the experience is for them and their patients.

Eventually, work dissatisfaction can lead to contempt and a high employee turnover rate.

A high turnover rate further impacts the healthcare centers’ ability to provide quality care.

Why We Need More Nurses in the Field

From what we’ve discussed in this article, it is pretty clear why we need more qualified nurses in healthcare.

Increasing the number of well-trained nurses and providing professional support ensures patients receive adequate, timely care.

A well-staffed healthcare facility means better injury, disease, and mental illness prevention.

It also means faster patient recovery times, better education, longer lifespans, and reductions in medical errors.

For nurses, proper staffing lowers stress, improves communication, provides better scheduling, reduces injuries, and allows more personal free time.

Putting more qualified and trained registered nurses into the field can solve many nursing shortage issues.

However, healthcare facilities must also provide good support to existing staff to keep them happy to minimize burnout.