Research Article Addresses Potential for Major Nursing Shortage, Nurse Co-Authors Study on COVID Distress, and More Nursing News

Asian female doctor appears to be stressed. She stands with hand on forehead, wearing safety goggles, face mask, surgical cap and face shield. Nursing burnout concept.

Dr. Peter Buerhaus considers the potential for a major nursing shortage due to COVID-19 in a recent research article. A nurse co-authors a study examining the high rates of moral distress experienced by pediatric critical care professionals during the initial COVID-19 surge. Applications to nursing schools are rising across the United States. A podcast addresses the role nurses play in increasing access to healthcare and diversifying the health workforce. Read on for this week’s nursing news and insights.

Buerhaus research article considers potential for major nursing shortage

A future “Category 5” nursing shortage could develop in the United States due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to one of the country’s most prominent nursing workforce experts and healthcare economists.

In a recently published article by Nursing Economic$, Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN, addresses nursing burnout as a result of COVID-19. Buerhaus reminds healthcare stakeholders of the need to champion nurses through the promoting of the efforts, innovations, and “heroic work” that these professionals have contributed during the pandemic.

Growing media attention has focused on nursing shortages, a focus that prompts questions about whether there are different types of nursing shortages and whether hospitals were actually facing shortages before the pandemic began, writes Buerhaus in “Current Nursing Shortages Could Have Long-Lasting Consequences: Time to Change Our Present Course.”

“Hospitals, nurses, thought leaders, and policymakers must address the potential long-range impacts of negative depictions of nurses and hospitals. We need to regroup and commit to fixing current and long-standing problems together, rethinking and planning for improving patient care in a post-COVID world, and supporting one another to achieve our aspirations for a better future,” he writes.

He also asks readers to ponder, when looking to the future, “Could unchecked sensationalism and unsubstantiated claims about current shortages negatively affect the capacity of the future post-COVID nursing workforce? Can historical precedents help us anticipate how the nursing workforce might fare over the decade? What can be done to prevent long-lasting shortages?”

To address these questions, Buerhaus’ commentary distinguishes background shortages from national shortages, discusses factors that created shortages in hospitals prior to the pandemic, and considers how the pandemic and our collective reactions to it could impact the growth and stability of the nursing workforce in the coming years.

The article appears in the September/October edition of Nursing Economic$, a bi-monthly publication that focuses on information and thoughtful analyses of current and emerging best practices in healthcare management, economics, and policymaking.

Buerhaus is a professor in the college of nursing and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at Montana State University. He maintains an active research program involving studies on the economics of the nursing workforce, forecasting nurse and physician supply, developing and testing measures of hospital quality of care, determining public and provider opinions on issues involving the delivery of healthcare, and assessing the quantity and quality of healthcare provided by nurse practitioners.

Of the more than 100 articles he has published in peer-reviewed journals, five publications are designated as “classics” by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Network.

Related webinar course: Nurse Resilience in the Age of COVID-19

Nurse co-authors study on COVID distress in pediatric critical care

Cynda H. Rushton, PhD, RN, a professor of clinical ethics and nursing at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, is one of five authors to examine the high rates of moral distress experienced by pediatric critical care professionals during the initial COVID-19 surge in the United States. The rapid emergence of complex ethical challenges and the potential impact of COVID-19 on young patients and their communities played a role in the stress, according to the study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Critical-Care.

“COVID-19 and Moral Distress: A Pediatric Critical Care Survey” reports the results of an exploratory survey of pediatric critical care professionals conducted in April and May 2020. The survey was sent to the Pediatric Acute Lung Injury and Sepsis Investigators (PALISI) research network of pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) in North America, and 337 participants responded. Nearly half of the respondents were physicians and advanced practice providers, including nurses, according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the organization that publishes the American Journal of Critical-Care.

A total of 85.8% of respondents reported experiencing varying degrees of moral distress. A similar number reported that after facing a challenging ethical situation, lingering distress continued to weigh them down.

“The pandemic brought to the surface many of the underlying chronic internal and external characteristics of moral distress,” said Tessy A. Thomas, DO, MBE, another co-author. “In addition, the lingering distress reported by most of the survey respondents could point to the previously reported accumulated residue and crescendo effect of unresolved, unrelieved issues from before the pandemic. Our findings highlight the opportunity for organizations to cultivate healthy work environments and moral climates to mitigate anticipatory, present, and lingering moral distress for all healthcare professionals. Tending to the moral distress experiences of healthcare professionals may create a more robust healthcare workforce.”

Among the study’s additional findings:

  • Although respondents were not confronting firsthand the same magnitude of morbidity and mortality as colleagues caring for adult patients, they were experiencing direct or anticipatory moral distress.
  • Nurses had higher degrees of moral distress than other professionals.
  • Challenges to their professional integrity during the pandemic was the main cause of moral distress for respondents.
  • Despite these challenges, healthcare professionals had the capacity to be morally resilient.

The qualitative data analysis also revealed five key themes associated with moral distress, including psychological safety, expectations of leadership, connectedness through a moral community, professional identity challenges, and professional versus social responsibility. The results illuminate how clinicians often struggled to maintain their professional identities, roles, expectations, and collegial relationships during the initial surge of the pandemic.

The findings also support calls for organizations to foster healthy work environments and build a culture of psychological safety in which healthcare professionals can voice concerns without fear of retaliation or censure.

Related courses: Critical Care/Emergency Specialty CE courses for Nurses

More students are applying to nursing schools

Applications to nursing schools are rising across the United States, particularly because young people see the global emergency as an opportunity and a challenge. According to a recent report by the Associated Press, enrollment in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral nursing programs increased 5.6% in 2020 from the year before to just more than 250,000 students nationally, citing the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Nurses throughout the U.S. continue to report burnout, however, and nursing faculty is expected to shrink by 25% by 2025 across the country as nurses retire or leave the profession, the report states.

Podcast spotlight: The Future of Nursing

Produced by Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, PhD, NNP, FAAN, an associate professor of nursing and director of the Infant Research, Autism, and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute at George Washington University, The Future of Nursing podcast is based on a report published by the National Academy of Medicine that addresses the role nurses play in increasing access to healthcare and diversifying the health workforce.

The episodes release weekly on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts. Recent episodes include “The Goal For 2030,” “Strengthen and Protect Nurses,” and “Creating a Shared Agenda.”

Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Elite Learning or Colibri Group. Media referenced in this news round-up does not constitute an endorsement.

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