Nursing has ranked as the nation’s most-trusted profession for 20 years straight, according to Gallup’s annual survey. So Americans should trust nurses when they say they need reinforcements. Stat!
A report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing warns that the numbers are moving in the wrong direction: The United States will need 200,000 more registered nurses in 10 years but saw an unprecedented net loss of 100,000 nurses from 2020 to 2021.
Washington’s shortage is among the worst. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the state has 8.11 nurses for every 1,000 residents, compared with a national average of 9.19 per 1,000.
Is it little wonder, then, that nurses are burned out and looking for other careers?
Pressures on nurses, ranging from graying baby boomers to cost-saving shifts of responsibility from doctors to nurses, have been building for years. Then came the pandemic, which has taken more than 1 million Americans’ lives — many of whom died in crowded hospitals while overworked nurses held their hands.
Hospitals have resorted to hiring short-term traveling nurses at salaries two or three times those paid to staff nurses. This is a surefire recipe for low morale and helps explain why Washington hospitals lost a record $1.8 billion in the first six months of 2022.
Unless Washington finds ways to encourage more people to go into nursing and more current nurses to stay in the profession, the shortage could become a health care crisis.
Pay, benefits and working conditions are cornerstones of attracting and retaining professionals in any field, including nursing. Pay and benefits are straightforward enough. Hospitals must pay enough and provide tailored benefits to compete for skilled workers. Working conditions are more situational, but they start with doctors, hospital administrators and even patients treating nurses with respect.
All the money and the best working conditions won’t be enough, however, if there aren’t nurses to fill openings. Bringing more nurses on board requires removing bottlenecks in the training and education pipeline.
In a Nov. 11 Seattle Times op-ed, a pair of Seattle University administrators described commonsense steps the Legislature could take to reduce the number of qualified applicants turned away by the state’s nursing schools.
For example, Washington should bring its overly burdensome regulation of clinical nursing hours into alignment with other states, add research-based best practices and reduce costs for nursing students.
Washington’s health care system can’t function, financially or otherwise, without an adequate staff of nurses. Trust nurses when they say their ranks are too thin.