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Nursing has always been a tough profession, but unique challenges up the ante in the 21st century. These days, nurses — and nurse leaders — are called on to provide higher levels of care with fewer resources, particularly in the past two years with the Covid-19 pandemic. They consistently deliver, but many are beginning to feel the strain. Hence, the importance of effective nurse managers who can ease this burden while implementing a healthier work environment. They are a crucial part of the equation for current challenges in nursing. First, however, it is important for aspiring nurse leaders to be aware of the difficulties they may face along the way.

7 Current Challenges in Nursing

Nurses deal with a lot of challenges on a daily basis, and, while some have been expected all along, others are mostly a product of the modern healthcare environment. Below, we identify common issues in nursing — and why skilled nurse leaders are so vital to solving these problems.

1. Work Environment

A healthy work environment can go a long way toward easing the many challenges associated with a medical career path. Many nurses are happy to put up with long hours and difficult patients in exchange for the camaraderie they find with other health care workers and the joy of working as part of a team toward a common goal.

Unfortunately, a significant share of nurses find not camaraderie, but rather, hostility in the workplace. This is reflected in the AMN Healthcare 2019 Survey of Registered Nurses in which 41 percent of respondents claimed that they had experienced bullying or incivility at work. What’s more, 27 percent said they witnessed workplace violence. Nurse leaders are often aware of these problems, but, without targeted training or sufficient support, may struggle to address workplace conflict. Yes, dealing with difficult nurses is stressful, but the best leaders know how to make the most of difficult situations.

2. Nurse Burnout

With so much on their plate — and sometimes little support — it becomes easy to see why many nurses feel burned out. Passion can only take them so far when they deal with so many challenges day in and day out. Sadly, research published in the open access journal JAMA Network Open reveals that nearly one-third of those who have recently left their positions in nursing cite burnout as the main reason, and the stress and overload placed upon them during the Covid pandemic has only exacerbated the issue.

Nurse managers can address this problem by demonstrating an awareness of the challenges nurses face and that they are committed to making positive changes. Often, just knowing they are valued can help prevent feelings of burnout. Nurse leaders who prioritize mental health can help to ensure that the field’s most talented professionals are physically and emotionally capable of meeting the demands of their job.

3. Staff Retention

Burnout is often to blame for issues with nurse retention. In the aforementioned study, nearly one in ten respondents revealed they had recently left their nursing jobs. Data cited in the journal Nursing Made Incredibly Easy! is even more concerning: as of 2020, a national turnover rate averaging 19.1 percent, with 18 percent of new nurses switching jobs within just one year of graduating from college. These concerning numbers are likely to continue rising as the pandemic continues.

Employers prefer to avoid turnover due to the high costs associated with training and onboarding. From the patient’s perspective, however, the problem is especially alarming as high turnover can dramatically reduce patient satisfaction. Patients who are constantly forced to adapt to new nurses may struggle to develop strong relationships with their health care providers. This, in turn, limits their sense of trust and may have an impact on whether they seek preventative care or follow through on nurses’ recommendations.

4. Adequately Trained Staff

As nursing shortages get worse, employers are often forced to seek less educated professionals who lack the extensive training or expertise needed to provide a high standard of care. Ongoing training can help to bridge this divide, but it can be difficult to dedicate sufficient time or resources to this when facilities are perpetually short on both. This sort of professional development training has had to take a back seat during the pandemic, when hospitals are grossly understaffed, undersupplied, and overwhelmed.

Nurse leaders play an important role in hiring and training staff, looking not only to credentials on resumes when making decisions, but also determining how specific skillsets might be beneficial in a particular environment. Once promising staff members have been hired, it is up to nurse leaders to ensure that they continue to improve with help from ongoing training and actionable feedback.

5. Patient Experience

Many of the issues highlighted above make it difficult for nurses to provide the quality of care that patients deserve. Due to the shortage, nurses are stretched thin, which means they are not able to be as attentive or caring as they would like. All too often, this results in a negative patient experience. If patient satisfaction scores are low, outcomes tend to suffer, as unhappy patients are less likely to return to obtain the preventative care they require.

Nurse managers can help to improve patient experiences by fostering a healthy and respectful environment in which both health care workers and the patients they serve are treated with dignity and compassion and measures are implemented to help ensure patient satisfaction, such as staff rounding. Effective communication is instrumental, so it is up to nurse leaders to determine where this is lacking and how it can be improved with training, accountability measures, and, of course, setting a positive example. Nurses are usually the ones providing more in-depth explanations for patients, and as evidenced by the rampant misinformation promulgating during the pandemic, people need educated professionals they can trust to provide them with quality information.

6. Safety on the Job

Hazards abound in both nursing and nurse management. Many of these are built into working in a clinical environment; even when using personal protective equipment, nurses risk being exposed to a variety of illnesses. This issue has only been enhanced by the Covid pandemic, with nurses dying from exposure at alarming rates. Other common hazards identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) include:

  • Exposure to toxic chemicals or drugs
  • Sharps injuries and related exposure to blood-borne diseases
  • Back injuries from lifting or transferring patients
  • Exposure to infectious disease
  • Fatigue from working night shifts or long hours

7. Quality Improvements

While the challenges highlighted above may seem overwhelming at first glance, all can be handled with help from highly trained nurse managers. Quality improvement (QI) is a central component of the modern nurse manager’s job; this involves standardizing and optimizing processes to promote more predictable results for patients and health care workers alike. Under a QI framework, dramatic improvements in both patient care and workplace environment can be quickly obtained.

How to Become a Nurse Leader

The concerns outlined above can be eased with help from passionate nurse leaders who understand what it takes to make a difference. These inspiring professionals play a crucial role in developing a positive work culture and a safe environment for nurses and the other health care workers that nurse managers oversee.

The nursing profession is in a unique position to potentially help improve their working conditions. As the importance of educated, experienced nurses have become more and more clear while the pandemic rages on, nurses can take this opportunity to take leadership roles to help enact positive change. As they become more instrumental in addressing today’s top health care challenges, nurse leaders require targeted education as well as impressive credentials to prove that they are up to the task. Obtaining a Master of Science in Nursing with an Organizational Leadership specialization is a key step on the path to long-term career success and, ultimately, positive changes in the nursing world.

Programmatically accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the MSN program at the American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Science at Post University provides well-rounded education. This targeted curriculum offers valuable insight into the role that policies and organizational structures play in outcomes for both individual patients and entire communities. It is a great opportunity for aspiring nurse managers.

If you are interested in making a positive impact in the field of nursing, you could be a great candidate for seeking your MSN, and specifically, an Organizational Leadership specialization. This is your opportunity to transform the nursing experience, and, with it, improve health outcomes within specific facilities and entire communities.

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