Nurses and other staff care for a COVID patient at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. (Courtesy of Oregon Health & Science University)
As a long-time nurse, nurse practitioner, and native Louisianan, I am deeply concerned about the nursing shortage that is affecting communities across our state. According to estimates by the Louisiana Board of Regents, there will be a shortfall of approximately 6,000 registered nurses (or 40% of the current workforce) by 2030.
This shortage is already profoundly impacting patient care, with many hospitals struggling to maintain safe staffing levels and nurses feeling overworked, stressed, and burned out. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve felt the impacts of the workforce challenges in so many local communities, including Shreveport, New Orleans, Monroe, Alexandria, Lake Charles, and Baton Rouge.
Ultimately, patients are the ones who bear the brunt of the crisis. When hospitals are short-staffed, nurses are forced to prioritize our patients and make difficult decisions about who gets their attention first. This can lead to longer wait times, delayed care, increased risk for medical errors, and fewer available beds without nurses to staff them.
Having fewer nurses, in turn, leads to higher workloads, more burnout, and increased turnover, all of which exacerbates the problem.
Unfortunately, the shortage of nurses in Louisiana is not unique to our state. It is a nationwide problem with 91 percent of nurses believing that the shortage is only getting worse. Subsequently, over half of nurses considered leaving their positions last year due to concerns related to staffing. Many older nurses are choosing to retire, and many younger ones are deciding to seek other careers.
To address the nursing shortage in Louisiana, we need support from policymakers at both the state and federal levels. Specifically, we need policies that will create supportive and empowering environments for nurses already in the field to help retain the existing workforce, as well as policies that encourage more people to enter the profession by helping nursing schools enhance students’ academic preparedness, clinical judgment, and resilience.
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First, policies that support nurses in the workplace are essential for retaining nurses in the workforce. This includes preventing violence against nurses, supporting work-life balance, and providing opportunities for educational and career advancement. By creating an environment where nurses feel heard and empowered to lead, we can improve job satisfaction and reduce burnout, ultimately leading to better patient care.
Giving us a seat at the table to advocate for the resources we need to safely carry out our duties not only creates a more satisfied and engaged workforce, but it could also lower costs as higher retention decreases the need to hire costly travel nurses. Finally, improving the nursing experience will ultimately improve recruitment efforts further down the pipeline.
If you open up TikTok or Instagram right now, you’re likely to see nurses venting about how stressed and traumatized they feel due to a lack of support. If we want more young people entering the profession, then we must make them feel safe, proud, and encouraged to provide care.
In addition to retention, policymakers must invest in recruiting the next generation of nurses. Here in Louisiana, 35% of RNs are aged 50 or older; they will retire in the coming years. Therefore, funding for nursing education programs will be critical to ensure we graduate enough nurses to meet the demand.
This includes funding for faculty development, clinical placements, and simulation labs – all essential components of nursing education. At a time when nurse educators are stretched thin, boosting the capacity of nursing faculty to teach has many benefits.
Doing so will help address the academic preparedness gap that prevents many students from pursuing nursing and hinders their ability to pass the requisite classes and exams. It will also help nursing schools fill the troubling number of faculty vacancies, allowing them to admit more nursing students and expand their program offerings without reducing education quality or standards.
After all, cutting corners on education or considering lowering educational standards in order to “just fill numbers” is not in the best interest of patient safety.
Solving the nursing shortage is no easy feat. Luckily, we have some hope for change as Gov. John Bel Edwards supports legislation bolstering the nursing pipeline, and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee Senator Bill Cassidy recognizes the severity of the nursing workforce crisis.
I encourage our state and federal lawmakers to work across the aisle and with nurses on the ground to implement solutions that will ensure Louisiana’s nursing workforce can meet the rising patient care demands for many years to come. As a first step, let’s pass policies that retain nurses in the workforce, empower nurses to advocate for themselves, and encourage more people to enter the nursing profession.
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