Glasgow Discusses How to Help Solve the State’s Nursing Shortage

The Post-Gazette featured an article written by School of Nursing Dean and Professor Dr. Mary Ellen Glasgow that address the impact COVID-19 has had on the growing nursing shortage and discusses how we need a a concurrent, broader, long-term strategy that focuses on rebuilding the workforce and retaining nurses and nursing faculty; one that demonstrates a substantive investment in nursing as a profession.  

Her editorial appeared Thursday, Dec. 2, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Read her editorial online or below: 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Nov. 27 editorial, "Helping to solve the state's nursing shortage," called for measures to attract and retain nurses. As a dean of a nursing school, I would add that shortage is too soft a word to describe the crisis we face.

For the past 19 months, nurses have witnessed firsthand the immense suffering of patients, families and communities caused by COVID-19. Over that time, nurses demonstrated heroism, stamina and resiliency beyond measure. But the severity and length of the pandemic has taken its toll, even on the most dedicated among us.

"The Great Resignation" has hit health care hard. Early retirements, transfers out of hospitals and acute care settings, and even dramatic career changes have created substantial staffing shortages right now. The anticipated nursing shortage has not only been severely accelerated; our current system has no clear plan to maintain and build the number of nurses we need.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the health-care sector has lost nearly half a million workers since February 2020. Approximately 22% of the remaining nurse workforce may leave their positions within the upcoming year, according to a 2021 McKinsey & Company survey.

A similar survey report from the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) reported that 17% of nurse leaders were considering leaving the profession, and 90 % of nurse leaders anticipate a shortage beyond the pandemic.

This crisis could have an impact well beyond immediate demands for nurses. Many nurses did not enter or return to graduate school due exhaustion or work demands related to COVID. That delay further limits the already short supply of nurse practitioners, clinical leaders and nursing faculty.

According to the National League for Nursing, 30% of nursing faculty active in 2015 were expected to retire by 2025. COVID will accelerate that as well. My nursing dean colleagues and I have noted another challenge: clinical faculty and preceptors are in short supply because they are working overtime in hospitals due to staffing shortages or leaving the profession. Fewer faculty means fewer spots for nursing students.

Together these data indicate a sustained, dramatic negative impact on the supply of nurses for the region. The confluence of these factors will put the nation's health in jeopardy.

I agree with the editorial board that sign-on bonuses and increased wages and overtime pay are strong strategies for recruiting nurses. The state's one-time loan forgiveness program is the sort of retention bonus that will help retain nurses.

However, we need a concurrent, broader, long-term strategy that focuses on rebuilding the workforce and retaining nurses and nursing faculty; one that demonstrates a substantive investment in nursing as a profession.

We need to carefully examine workload and working conditions, and offer nurses sabbaticals, post-traumatic psychological and ethical debriefing, and ongoing psychological support in addition to loan repayment, increased compensation, and commensurate respect for the work they are doing. More money does not address burnout long term.

We need scholarships for graduate nurse education and a financial investment in nursing faculty who have been heroes during the pandemic by helping with testing, vaccinating and patient care along with their teaching. We need scholarships for undergraduate students, particularly second degree students, so we can capitalize on growing interest in nursing as a career with ways to let new nurses enter the workforce quickly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the tremendous contributions of nurses to the health and well-being of our country. They have rightly been hailed as heroes. But as the perceived urgency fades and interest in the heroes of health care wanes, nurses have and will continue to fight every single day.

Our elected officials, public and private sectors, and individuals must invest in nurses through scholarships, faculty support and other meaningful retention strategies - before it's too late.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University's academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim. 

It's time for bigger goals
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