EDITOR’S NOTE: Paula Fessler is the Chief Nursing Officer at UNC Health. She has more than 25 years of experience in the nursing profession.
As an 8th grader volunteering at a neighborhood nursing home, I saw the many ways nurses and support caregivers provide 24/7 safe, compassionate care to their patients and families.
That experience was the spark that led me into a very fulfilling career in nursing. As a nurse for more than 25 years, I have seen this profession shift. Now I worry that clinical nurses today and, in the future, will have a harder time finding the spark that makes nursing so rewarding.
Many of us choose a career in nursing with a desire to help others. Most Americans see that in nurses, as evidenced by nursing being ranked one of the most honest and ethical profession for 20 years in a row, according to Gallup’s annual poll.
As Chief Nursing Officer at UNC Hospitals, one of my biggest concerns is that our current healthcare environment is creating even more challenges for our caregivers — leaving those in nursing feeling overworked and undervalued.
The pandemic led to unexpected numbers of experienced nurses leaving their current roles. Many retired, while others chose to travel to higher paying, temporary positions. Some have started an entirely new career. These changes have created new dynamics and challenges within our workforce, creating a gap in our talent experience and having fewer full-time nurses to on-board our new staff.
Prior to the pandemic, the NCNurseCast project predicted that by 2033, our state would face an estimated shortage of nearly 12,500 registered nurses. This number is likely much greater today and continuing to grow due to higher nurse turnover and burnout. Meanwhile, more than 80,000 qualified aspiring nursing students were rejected from nursing programs nationwide last year due to limitations in nursing school capacity.
As we mark National Nurses Week, millions of Americans are keenly aware of the lifesaving care nurses provide. Whether they are nurses in an outpatient setting, in a nursing home, or at a hospital, nurses provide compassionate care and are a primary advocate for their patients. As nurses, we typically spend more time with our patients and their families than other caregivers. We are a vital link to the entire healthcare team.
Nurses play a key role in positive patient experiences. The nurse is the one who hears about barriers to health such as a lack of support at home or inability to pay for medications. Hearing about these barriers, understanding them and acknowledging them can be critical components in helping a patient maintain their overall health and remain safe.
Throughout it all, nurses continue to provide amazing care. They tirelessly share their specialized skills, time and compassion. However, no one has endless amounts of time and compassion no matter how much they might try. Healthcare workers, especially nurses, need to be supported by their healthcare leaders and systems. We must value our nurses. Addressing professional development, retention and enhancing the talent pipeline remain constant challenges.