Modern nursing presents a lot of challenges despite being a highly rewarding and fulfilling career. Luckily there are many ways to meet challenges and come out stronger in the end. It is important to remember that challenges become easier as you gain experience and confidence as a nurse.
Here are some of the most prevalent challenges nurses face today and how they are being managed:
Understaffing is a major problem in healthcare
A major shortage of medical workers has been a problem for a long time, but during the COVID-19 crisis, many people realized just how short our medical system is on skilled medical professionals. Although steps have been taken to avert this problem, the sheer number of aging adults as well as younger people with chronic or debilitating conditions has created even higher demand in a field that is already suffering a massive deficit.
Understaffing means that nurses need to find ways to make up for a lack of labor without compromising the quality of care they offer their patients, if possible.
Streamlining operations by delegating tasks to others at various job levels is one simple strategy that costs nothing.
Automation of some tasks at larger hospitals is also relieving some of the burden. Robots that move throughout hospitals and make deliveries for example, have been in use for quite some time.
Increasing recruitment efforts and offering hiring incentives
Hospitals and major medical facilities have been making an effort to expand their recruitment efforts. This means that rather than just advertising on their own website or locally, they are creating listings on online job boards or even taking part in job fairs and industry-wide networking events.
Hiring incentives such as bonuses, help with housing and relocation and great benefits packages are more popular than ever before. Offering incentives also helps medical facilities diversify their workforce on a faster timescale.
Nurses must be more culturally aware
Even areas that lacked a lot of diversity are now quickly becoming more diverse year after year. This means that healthcare providers need to take extra steps to become aware of the differences among people within the community and region they are providing care in.
Some healthcare administrators are offering cultural awareness training and classes. This can range from bringing in religious leaders to teach nurses about beliefs that can impact the type of care a patient will accept from a care provider.
Learning a second language is a major benefit for healthcare workers. In the United States, learning Spanish is a great way to increase your employability and help provide more efficient care to patients.
Overcoming resistance to preventative care visits
A lot of people are not great at making and keeping routine and preventative care visits, tests and screenings. This problem intensified thanks to COVID-19 because so many people, including physicians, were delaying any visits that were not deemed critical. Another factor is that although a lot more people have extensive health insurance coverage, they do not realize that preventative care visits are covered and often have little to no copay.
Encouraging preventative care among people from all backgrounds and age groups is challenging, but it is necessary for providing good care and preventing serious illnesses.
Explaining the need for preventative visits and how they can reduce the need for more extensive treatments by catching problems quickly is important. Some patients need to hear that their visits are covered by their insurance provider as well.
In some areas, and among some demographics, there may be other factors, such as lack of transportation and childcare. Helping patients gain access to services that can help in these situations shows that you are going the extra mile to provide care to people from all backgrounds.
Rising healthcare costs
The healthcare industry is facing the hurdle of steadily rising healthcare costs. This makes it harder to provide a high level of care while keeping patient costs as affordable as possible so that more people can get the care they need to lead long and productive lives.
Preventative medicine plays a large role because it catches illnesses before they become more serious and require longer and more expensive treatments or surgeries.
Taking a more holistic approach to medical treatment can help reduce costs. While there is no replacement for modern antibiotics and treatments, there are some holistic practices that are shown to be very effective in increasing the emotional wellbeing and physical fitness of patients.
Working more overtime
There are times when patient volume is overwhelmingly high or other healthcare workers are out sick. Since there is already a shortage of workers, it can be very difficult when there is a heavier workload. The result of all of this is that some nurses are working more overtime shifts than in the past. This was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the ways that this challenge is being met are by increasing efforts to recruit nurses and encouraging people to retrain for a career in a healthcare field.
There are nurses that travel and take temporary positions to help fill an urgent need at a healthcare facility. In some cases, this may lead to a permanent position if it is a good fit for the nurse and medical facility alike. Plenty of nurses spend some time in their career traveling and filling in at different facilities because it is a great way to see the country and experience the cultural gifts each area has to offer.
It is critical for healthcare administrators and nursing leaders to make an effort to encourage good mental health practices and work-life balance among their staff. Nurses tend to be naturally caring people that want to make a positive impact on the world around them. The result of all these good intentions is working so hard that you do not always take care of yourself properly. While this seems noble, the truth is that a nurse that is not taking care of their physical and emotional wellbeing cannot provide the quality care for their patients that a nurse who practices self-care does.
Some ways this challenge is being met is by encouraging exercise and healthy eating habits. This can mean offering exercise rooms and healthy snacks and food options at work. Making sure that everyone has access to therapists if needed, and at least some time off to rest and recover occasionally is also effective. Having an open-door policy where nurses can air suggestions and concerns helps everyone create a better working environment. When nurses thrive, patients receive better care. It really is that simple.
Violence in the workplace
There has always been some risk of workplace violence when working at any medical facility, especially in emergency rooms and at high-volume hospitals. Unfortunately, there are increasing incidences of violence against healthcare workers. At least part of this problem is due to the increase in substance abuse and untreated mental illness. While these problems were rampant before COVID-19, during the pandemic, a lot more people turned to substances to cope with depression, isolation and other issues. Those that had minor problems were sometimes pushed over the cliff of addiction.
With so many emergency room visits related to substance abuse and mental health, more healthcare facilities are being forced to reconsider what they can do to prevent healthcare workers from experiencing violence and associated injuries.
One solution is being more attentive to the mental state of anyone admitted or seeking help. If someone is clearly intoxicated, it is important to be cautious when administering care and to figure out what substances may be involved. Making sure that a single worker is not left alone with someone that is clearly intoxicated is a good idea.
Workplace injuries and infections
Nurses need to perform a lot of physical tasks. Helping lift and transport patients is an activity that results in a lot of physical stress. Over time, the physical demands of nursing can really add up, especially if there is a long period of high patient volume and too few staff to adequately accommodate the load.
Nurses are exposed to hazardous substances and bodily fluids as well as highly transmissible diseases and infections.
Some of the methods employed to protect nurses from these workplace hazards include training in proper methods for moving and transporting patients, equipment that assists with patient mobility and personal protective gear.
Encouraging good hygiene habits such as frequent handwashing, glove changes and hand sanitizer usage is also helpful at preventing disease transmission.
Maintaining accurate medical records
In the past, medical records were kept primarily on paper or in very basic computer programs. Practically all medical facilities now have advanced medical record-keeping systems that reduce the amount of time and effort needed to keep accurate and detailed records for all patients.
Hospitals in particular have advanced record-keeping systems that allow medical staff to easily keep track of the medications, treatments and more for many patients. Having everything easily accessible and automatically updated with the simple scan of a wristband helps prevent mix-ups and mistakes that can have dire consequences.
Working irregular hours
While some nurses seem to thrive on working odd hours and having a very erratic monthly schedule, it can be more challenging for some. Working overnight shifts is something that takes some getting used to. In the case of nurses that have children, there can be childcare issues that have to be addressed regularly to meet scheduling demands, especially if a partner or spouse is working regular hours.
Sometimes healthcare professionals can help each other out by requesting the shifts that they like the most. There are some people that prefer to work odd shifts for one reason or another. If an emergency or obligation comes up, it is not uncommon for nurses to swap shifts with permission from their supervisor.
Being on call during times of high demand is another thing that nurses may have to deal with. Staying longer when someone is late for any reason at all can happen because there needs to be someone to take over duties before you can leave.
Changing technology and treatments
The world of medicine is constantly changing and advancing as new ways of treating illnesses and diseases are discovered. In addition, there are new technological advances being introduced every day. Nurses need access to ongoing quality training and instruction before they are expected to administer new treatments or work with new equipment. Without good training it can be easy for even the most experienced nurses and healthcare workers to make mistakes. It is far better to make mistakes during training practices than when treating a patient.
Continuing education classes are required to maintain an RN license. These provide a great opportunity for nurses to brush up on areas where they feel that their knowledge is waning.
Emotional and hostile patients and family members
There does not have to be violence involved for a nurse to be abused by patients or their friends and family. Those that are going through a hard time with an illness or injury can lash out at healthcare workers as a coping mechanism. Patients or their families may feel like there is more that could be done to help them even if they have been given every possible treatment and comfort available.
Nurses must learn to stay calm and remember that it is not a personal attack, even if it feels like one or is being directed at them. As a nurse, you are the person that is closest at hand within the medical community, so you unfortunately are the person that is most likely to face hostile attitudes and words.
If a patient becomes a danger to themselves or others that is another matter entirely. In this case, it is important to involve department supervisors and attending physicians to thoroughly assess the situation and apply conflict management guidelines and procedures.
The advantages of earning an advanced degree
The more you know and the greater your experience level, the easier it is to overcome challenges. Earning an advanced degree can help you gain problem-solving skills and ensure that your knowledge of current medical treatments, procedures and technologies is as up-to-date as possible.
It is easier and less expensive to earn an advanced degree than it was in the past. Now, you can earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing online while maintaining your regular job. Of course, you will have to perform clinical rotations in person to complete your degree program. Earning an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing through a reputable institution such as Holy Family University Online allows students to obtain their RN degree and license in as little as 14 months. Developed for students who already hold a Bachelor’s degree in another field, this program prepares students to excel in the nursing field when treating patients of all ages.
Facility support programs
Healthcare work is hard on an emotional level. Add in the physical stresses and it is no wonder that nurses sometimes have a hard time compartmentalizing their life to deal with the everyday stresses of nursing, as well as the more serious emotions related to losing patients.
During times when there is a lot of serious illness and higher levels of death, such as during COVID-19, nurses can be stretched thin emotionally and physically.
Hospitals often have support services in place so that healthcare workers have someone they can go talk to for emotional support and advice on how to deal with stress and loss. Some nurses also seek out private counseling or support groups to deal with emotional stress.
Having a good mentor that is an experienced nurse is very helpful. Over time, nurses learn which coping mechanisms work best for them. An experienced nurse can help new nurses learn to handle their workload and feelings in as healthy a way as possible.
Managing the challenges
There are challenges in any occupation. Modern nursing has many challenges, but they are manageable if they are addressed promptly by healthcare leaders as well as nurses. Medical facilities have an obligation to help nurses overcome challenges by giving them the tools and support they need.
New challenges will always be on the horizon, but when approached in a logical manner and tackled in reasonable steps, there is no doubt that nurses will be able to overcome those as well. Challenges help nurses become better at providing a high level of care.