More Than a Nursing Shortage: A 'Skills Gap,' Too | | New Jersey State Nurses Association

More Than a Nursing Shortage: A ‘Skills Gap,’ Too

 In Nurses Weekly

The exodus of experienced nurses leaving the front lines, as well as turnover among early-career nurses, have led to a widening skills gap, creating major implications for a health care system in need.

As nurses with 20 or 30 years of experience retire, hospitals are struggling to find skilled nurses to take their place. Instead, early-career nurses may be thrown into overwhelming, stressful critical care environments.

Experts had raised awareness about a shortage in highly skilled nurses long before the pandemic. The Institute of Medicine published a report in 2011, calling for more nurse training to meet healthcare demands. The report recommended that 80% of nurses have bachelor’s degrees by 2020, as well as a doubling of nurses who pursue doctorates.

Additionally, a paper in Nursing Economics estimated that from 2010 to 2030, more than 1 million registered nurses would retire from the workforce—taking years of knowledge with them.

While the United States has been grappling with a projected nurse shortage for the last decade, many believe the pandemic has accelerated the rate of nurses leaving the workforce. Most recently, the American Nurses’ Association called for the Department of Health and Human Services to “declare a national nurse staffing crisis,” proposing workforce retention strategies and more training opportunities, among other solutions.

Nurses have been working with short staffs, increasing their caseloads. The influx of critically ill patients has overwhelmed ICUs and emergency departments, creating working environments that are untenable, or even unsafe. Additionally, many nurses have taken on the increased emotional burden of becoming sole support systems for patients in their dying hours, many of whom could not see their families. These intense working conditions drove seasoned nurses—many baby boomers—to retire earlier than they may have planned, Butler said.

“The pipeline of new nurses doesn’t keep pace with retirement—and with so much of the experience retiring from the workforce, much of the operational, safety, clinical, and institutional knowledge, history, and wisdom is lost,” she told MedPage Today.

As nurses with 20 or 30 years of experience retire, hospitals are struggling to find skilled nurses to take their place. Instead, early-career nurses may be thrown into overwhelming, stressful critical care environments.

“I am deeply concerned when I am seeing new grads starting their career in emergency departments, or new grads starting in any of these critical care spaces,” Butler said. “I’m really worried about them. I’m worried about the people who have to train them. And I’m worried about the patients.”

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