The last 18 months have been so intense and demanding on nurses who work on the frontlines of COVID-19 care that many are considering leaving the profession altogether. The importance of motivated, experienced, skilled nurses has never been greater, so it is of utmost importance that healthcare systems worldwide begin to value nurses as much as they should.
Now, more than ever, hospitals, clinics, and healthcare systems must have experienced nurses and should strive to generate fresh interest in the profession.
Nursing in the limelight
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the nursing profession into the limelight as nurses stood on the front lines of the pandemic. After 18 grinding months, many nurses are now emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted and are beginning to rethink their career choices. According to a recent study by Trusted Health, 2021 Frontline Nurse Mental Health & Well-being Survey, 46% of the nurses surveyed reported feeling less committed to the nursing career after working throughout the pandemic.
Also, 25% of the surveyed nurses reported looking for a job outside of the nursing field, and 67% said that they did not think that the healthcare system was prioritizing the mental health and well-being of nurses. Finally, the survey also found that younger nurses felt less committed to the career path than their more experienced counterparts. The study found that nurses under 40 years old were 22% more likely than average to report feeling less committed to the nursing career path.
These findings, along with similar results from comparable studies, are causing significant alarm among healthcare providers and systems around the world. There is already a huge need for more nurses in hospitals and clinics, and the lack of enthusiasm and commitment is cause for alarm.
Regrettably, many nurses feel inadequately supported by their workplaces and hospitals. They have worked so incredibly hard on the front lines of the pandemic, and it is a significant failing on the part of hospitals, clinics, and healthcare systems that they feel unsupported and uncared for. If the number of nurses is going to increase, the companies and health systems that employ nurses will need to take another look at their treatment of staff and reassess their benefits and salary packages.
Nurses in leadership roles
One thing that could change the tide of nurses leaving the career is that there are now many more nurses in top leadership positions than previously. The pandemic highlighted the unique skillsets nurses possess in the healthcare industry, namely their commitment to quality patient care, their clinic skills, and the complexity of the nursing work. The pandemic also highlighted how a lack of skilled nurses could have a negative impact on patient care and the smooth running of a hospital or clinic.
Nurses are represented at the top of many hospital conglomerates and healthcare systems, but they are not represented in ministries of health and similar bodies on a global level. That is a significant oversight as nurses have much more on-the-ground, person-to-person experience than many doctors and researchers.
The pandemic led many governments and global health bodies such as the WHO to reconsider the representation of nurses on their leadership teams. The WHO’s Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery (2021 – 2025) was presented for considerations at the World Health Assembly in May 2021. It included policy recommendations for managing the nursing profession’s challenges and reinforcing nursing leadership at the highest levels.
How nurses are upskilling and developing their skills
Although many individuals are reconsidering their decision to enter the nursing profession, many nurses have been inspired by how impactful their work and role can be to society. This wave of renewed interest has led many nurses to consider going back to school as returning or mature students and pursuing a subsequent degree.
Many of the nurses considering a return to education are deciding between DNP v PhD. The DNP is the Doctor of Nursing Practice and prepares nurses at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes. A Ph.D. in nursing, on the other hand, prepares nurses at the highest level of nursing science rather than practice and allows students to conduct research and advance the science of nursing.
Wilkes University offers both DNP and Ph.D. programs in nursing for students, and the courses offered for both are online so that they are flexible for working professionals. The courses are also accelerated, so you do not have to put your life on hold for four to five years; but instead, you can work while also studying for about two years.
Nurses with DNP and Ph.D. qualifications are desperately needed worldwide, and the opportunities for such degree holders are continuing to develop and increase. When deciding between the degree programs, what is significant to consider is whether you are more interested in the practice or the scientific research elements of nursing.
The value of experience
Although the lack of interest from new nurses is a cause for great concern, experienced nurses must remain dedicated to the profession. There is no better teacher than experience, and that maxim holds true for the nursing profession. So much of nursing involves working with patients, communicating with their family members, and managing the expectations of other nurses, doctors, and hospital staff. Managing all of these interpersonal skills and actions successfully cannot be taught through anything but experience.
Many experienced nurses have also worked in several different hospitals and medical environments. They may have worked in various units with different types of patients, doctors, and medical practices. This creates an essential diversity of perspective which all units and hospitals can gain from. Losing the experience of nurses who have been in the nursing profession for decades will be an incalculable loss for the nursing industry.
If nothing else, the pandemic has shown the world just how the nursing profession is essential. Hopefully, healthcare systems and hospital conglomerates of the world are beginning to wake up to just how vital nurses are and how they need to support the mental health and emotional well-being of them of all ages and experience levels.