Magnitude of the Shortage
If we break down the issue of nurse shortages, you will find the problem mostly lies in smaller towns and more rural areas. There are several different factors that contribute to the problem in these areas, as opposed to metropolitan areas. One of the biggest driving factors is the lack of interest in living in these areas. As you can imagine, it is much more difficult to attract and retain qualified nurses to smaller towns. This is mostly due to lower wages and less professional development opportunities when compared to it’s urban counterpart. With that, medical staffing agencies have to be particularly innovative with their incentives in order get top talent to want to be in some less than desirable areas.
Although rural areas are where nurse shortages tend to be most prevalent, that doesn’t mean metropolitan areas don’t have issues of their own. Factors that contribute to nurse shortages in these areas include the cost of living, higher population, and increased demand for healthcare. With higher population, comes more patients, and more pressure on the medical staffing companies. This can lead to higher nurse turnover rate and nurse burnout.
Work environment has been one of the biggest driving factors in nurse shortages today. It’s no secret that nurses have to endure some pretty long hours and unpredictable schedules. This, coupled with increasingly high patient-to-nurse ratios and physically demanding work can create a less than desirable work environment. Additionally, more often than not, nurses are forced into working overtime just make ends meet. This type of work environment eventually becomes unsustainable for many nurses, which ultimately results in nurses taking less demanding rolls and creating the shortage that we see today.
With this, nurses also seem to be very undervalued and under appreciated. This is surprising due to the huge role nurses play in the medical staffing industry. Nurses are often subject to verbal abuse from both patients and their families creating a toxic work environment that can be detrimental to ones mental health. Having a work environment like this can also make it challenging for nurse staffing agencies to find top talent, which only adds to the current nurse shortage concerns.
One key economic factor that can cause nurse shortages is the cost of education for nurses. Between textbooks, tuition, living expenses, and other education costs, nursing can be an expensive career to pursue. Therefore, many potential nurses decide against the profession due to the difficulty of affording the education. Furthermore, the more student debt the nurse leave school with, the less willing they are to enter lower paying roles in rural and undesirable areas, which explains the prevalence of nurse shortages in those areas.
Another massive contributor to the nurse shortage is the difference in salaries between nurses and other healthcare professionals. Despite the long hours and skillset requirements, nurse’s wages are often overshadowed by many other professions in healthcare. To list some, physicians and nurse anesthetists are typically paid more. Obviously, this makes nurse a less desirable career choice for someone looking to work in healthcare.
Impact on Medical Staffing Agencies
As one can imagine, nurse shortages place an incredible financial burden on some medical staffing agencies. Medical staffing agencies are responsible for supplying temporary and permanent nurses to hospitals. So, if there aren’t enough nurses to go around, these agencies aren’t making money. Additionally, nurse shortages force these agencies to increase wages and bonuses substantially in order to attract more nurses. This, in turn, increases operational costs. This also may lead to internal workers having to work overtime and cost the agency even more.
Quality of Care
When there is a nurse shortage in the medical staffing industry, the quality of patient care drastically decreases. this is largely due to understaffed healthcare facilities, heavier workload, and nurse burnout. This becomes a problem when many patients in the healthcare facility are receiving less and less treatment. With a smaller number of nurses available, it becomes difficult to divide their time effectively. Ultimately, lower quality of care can lead to and increased risk of error which compromises the health and safety of the patients.
Nursing shortages have the potential to significantly damage the reputation of a medical staffing agency. As previously discussed, having a lower supply of health care workers will eventually lead to facilities not being able to fill critical roles and less than desirable patient care. Unfortunately, a lot of this falls on the medical staffing agency.
Solutions, Recommendations, and Limitations
Adapting to involve more travel nurses is something that many temporary nurse staffing agencies around the country are doing. These nurses are in a special category due to their willingness to relocate temporarily for a job. The flexibility of these nurses is greatly beneficial when trying to curb nurse shortages in different areas. Given that these nurses are willing to relocate, medical staffing agencies can look in a wider range of areas for qualified nurses. The agency isn’t restricted to only looking in the area in which the hospital or healthcare facility is located. Travel nurses serve as a great buffer against nurse shortages.
Along with providing a wider variety of expertise than the permanent nurses in the area, the travel nurses will help out tremendously with nurse burnout. Most of the permanent nurses have very overwhelming and unpredictable schedules, but the addition of travel nurses could help alleviate some of stress and fatigue that comes with that type of work environment.
Government initiatives could offer some serious help when it comes to the nurse shortages for medical staffing agencies. One of the more popular solutions is the investment in education. If the government were to put more money into the expansion of education opportunities, the number of nurses in the healthcare industry would likely increase. This money could help fund loan forgiveness programs and scholarships to make the education accessible to more people.
It would also be extremely effective if governments put certain policies and regulations in place to improve working conditions. Government organizations should focus on offering better wages and setting minimum nurse to patient ratios
One of the technological solutions discussed in the nursing industry has been the use of different nurse scheduling software. These programs typically use artificial intelligence, along with an algorithm to make sure patient demand is always met. By using patient history and nurse demand patterns, these programs are able to predict future staffing needs with a great deal of accuracy. Along with predicting future staffing needs, the software helps nurses have a better grasp on their schedules and prevents over and understaffing.
Another interesting technological solution that emerged during the COVID 19 pandemic, is the use of remote monitoring technology. These programs allow nurses to tend to patients need without ever having to be physically present. This offers more flexibility for nurses and in-turn reduces nurse burnout. This type of solution can be particularly helpful in rural communities where it is more likely to see a nursing shortage.
Strategic recruitment could be an extremely effective solution for the nursing shortage impacting staffing agencies. Investing in various nursing schools and education programs is one of the many ways staffing agencies can level up their strategic recruitment in an attempt to curb the nursing shortage. Medical staffing agencies should take a look into offering internships to students at specific educational institutions. Investing in education would also mean these staffing agencies can tailor the education the aspiring nurses will receive. This will ensure all graduates are prepared for the nursing industry with all the necessary knowledge and skills.
Advocating for change is always going to be an effective solution to any problem, but it is especially true with the issue of nurse shortages. As previously mentioned, one of the largest potential causes of nurse shortages is the lack of candidates entering nursing educational institutions. Through policy advocacy, staffing agencies can be apart of a movement to get policymakers to invest more money and resources into the recruitment of potential nursing students. Additionally, creating incentives for these potential students could result in a massive increase in available nursing professionals.