Battling the Great Nursing Exodus by Not Making it Worse!

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, it’s valid to lament the host of problems facing healthcare and the nursing profession. But waxing eloquently on problems will not generate the bold, innovative solutions needed in nursing and healthcare right now.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, it’s valid to lament the host of problems facing healthcare and the nursing profession. But waxing eloquently on problems will not generate the bold, innovative solutions needed in nursing and healthcare right now. I’m excited to kick off this monthly article for nurse leaders where I’ll be writing about and summarizing some of the biggest issues facing us, but more importantly sharing practical solutions, insights, and innovations within the nursing profession that you can use right now.

For my first issue, it seemed fitting to start with the burgeoning staffing problems compounded by rising COVID-19 case rates; the onslaught of patients who have delayed care over the past two years; the exasperation and frustration of working in healthcare when political leaders are undermining sound scientific principles for containing a pandemic; rising absenteeism from illness, childcare demands, and burnout; and the consequent resignation and exodus of nurses. Certainly, no simple solution exists for the complexity of this problem, but we need to start to change this trajectory now and we need to start somewhere.

When faced with an overwhelmingly complex situation where there is no easy answer, I often ask, “what one small thing within our control could we do to make the situation a bit better?” In this case, I am also thinking, “what do we need to do to stop making it worse!” My son-in-law shared that all of the social media postings from his nurse friends are about how bad the situation is and how they are considering quitting their jobs and leaving the profession. Last week, a colleague at Practicing Excellence described that a friend is reconsidering entering the nursing profession after hearing how horrific things are.

We have seen an initial rise in applications to nursing schools with the start of the pandemic, but if we want to avert the alienation of interested students, we need to change our narrative. Peter Buerhaus, a nurse and healthcare economist with expertise in research and writing on the nursing workforce, reminds us that the public outcry by nurses about severe reductions in staffing in response to cost containment efforts in the 1990’s resulted in a notable decrease in nursing school enrollment. We cannot afford to repeat that mistake. The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future reversed the declining enrollment trend with positive portrayals of the nursing profession and the exemplars of “small” moments where nurses made a profound difference in patients lives.

As we address the complexity of the staffing issue facing us, let’s also tell the story of the beauty of being a nurse and nursing practice. Even as we legitimately describe the pressures of practicing in a pandemic, let’s also acknowledge the profound difference that nurses are making. Let’s watch for and tell stories about those “small” moments where nurses made a difference. Let’s start our staff meetings, board meetings, and discussions with the media with stories about how important and how impactful nurses are even in the midst of an untenable situation. Let’s let people know how we have risen to the occasion.

I’d love to hear your stories of small moments where your nurses made a difference. Please use the comments section below or send me a comment through LinkedIn and I’ll share them in a future issue.

Buerhaus PI. Current Nursing shortages could have long-lasting consequences: Time to change our present course. Nurs Econ. 2021;39(5):247-250.

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