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The Effects Of The Nursing Shortage On Global Health

Nurses are one of the biggest and most essential workforces in the healthcare industry, contributing significantly to delivering quality care and improving outcomes for individuals and communities. They assist people through preventative and curative care measures. In addition, they serve as frontline healthcare workers and valued professionals in the industry who work toward improving the overall healthcare system.

Although the importance of nurses in delivering effective and quality care has never been in doubt, the world is still facing a shortage of qualified professionals in this field. This can severely compromise the quality of care delivered, reducing health outcomes and the overall well-being of the global population. This is mainly due to an insufficient number of nurses working in and entering the profession to meet the requirements of the global healthcare industry.

Several studies have reported major shortcomings in the availability of nurses to care for the aging population. Not enough nurses are entering the workforce to make up for those who are retiring or switching careers.

To address this problem, healthcare organizations must find ways to reduce the tide of attrition and add new nurses to the workforce. There could be a global shortage of 13 million nurses by 2030, according to a report by the International Council of Nurses (ICN), a Geneva-based organization of global nurse associations. In the US, 3 million nurses are needed to keep up with the nursing shortage. Globally, the situation is similar for most countries, and the situation is likely to worsen in response to the growing demand For nurses.

The Impact of the Nursing Workforce Shortage

The global nursing shortage is a challenge that needs to be addressed as it can pose several challenges to the healthcare industry. It is impacting more than 1 billion people worldwide. It is particularly affecting vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those from low-income backgrounds who most need quality care services.

Before the pandemic, the world was already short of approximately 5.9 million nurses in low- and middle-income countries. During the pandemic, the working conditions worsened, creating a sense of stress and exhaustion in nurses that led to almost doubling attrition rates.

The shortage of nurses has emerged as a pressing concern, casting a dark shadow over patient outcomes, disease management and the pursuit of optimal health. The inadequate number of nursing professionals in the healthcare industry has far-reaching impacts.

It also challenges the healthcare industry’s ability to fight diseases and improve overall health by creating increased workloads and stress among nursing professionals. This results in a constant loop of lowering the quality of nursing care, increasing nursing stress, affecting patient safety, and increasing patient mortality rates.

A continuous shortage of nursing professionals in the healthcare industry will lead to increased workloads, often requiring nurses to work longer hours, deal with more complex cases, and handle more patients. It will make it difficult for nurses to offer quality services to patients and lead to stress and burnout. It can also increase the likelihood of medical errors and reduce the ability of nurses to provide individualized care.

The shortage of nursing professionals can also impact nursing education and research. The limited availability of qualified faculty and resources will make it difficult for nursing schools to educate and train an adequate number of new nurses. Furthermore, the shortage of nurses will impact research and advancement in the nursing profession. There will be a significant reduction in the development of evidence-based practices and innovations in healthcare delivery, impeding the overall advancement of the profession.

The shortage of nursing professionals poses long-term challenges for healthcare systems. The lack of nurses will leave healthcare organizations struggling to meet the demands of an aging population and impede their ability to provide timely and efficient care to patients. It will also undermine the sustainability of healthcare systems and limit their capacity to respond effectively to public health crises and emergencies.

Factors Impacting the Nursing Shortage

There are several factors behind the current shortage of qualified nursing professionals. If they are not addressed timely and effectively, the number of individuals affected by the shortage will grow as nurses struggle to provide high-quality care.

There has been a decline in student enrollments in nursing programs because of insufficient planning and funding. This stems from a lack of investment in nursing education and the failure to anticipate and meet the growing demand for nurses. Without a sufficient number of students entering nursing programs, there will be a limited pool of qualified professionals to address the shortage. Nursing schools sometimes have to deny admission to qualified applicants because of insufficient clinical sites and faculty shortages. Nursing burnout due to high-stress working conditions also means fewer nurses are available to train the next generation of nurses.

Ineffective policies, regulations and strategies have also decreased the number of nurses in the healthcare industry. There has been poor planning regarding recruitment and a lack of management leadership. Inadequate planning has led to nurses taking on increased workloads, facing poor working conditions, and receiving inadequate support, which is driving them to leave their jobs. There is an overall lack of vision regarding supporting nurses professionally, resulting in dissatisfaction and attrition.

The healthcare industry is also experiencing an increase in early retirements of existing nursing professionals because of health issues. Healthcare professionals, including nurses, face demanding and often stressful work environments that can take a toll on their health. This leads to early retirement, depleting the pool of skilled professionals who are available to provide patient care.

This imbalance between the number of individuals requiring care and the number of available nurses significantly strains the healthcare system. Some countries are also facing a shortage of working professionals because of declining birth rates. Japan and South Korea are two examples of countries being affected by falling birth rates.

Meanwhile, countries such as Thailand are experiencing mass migration of qualified nurses because of poor working conditions, contributing to the nursing shortage in the country. Other developed countries, such as Singapore, are at the other end of the spectrum, attracting nurses who are seeking better working conditions and career prospects.

Brain drain is also a common problem in most countries experiencing nursing shortages as newly graduating nurses with bachelor’s degrees prefer to move to other countries because of better opportunities. This can be attributed to factors such as higher salaries, better benefits and more attractive professional growth prospects. The allure of these opportunities often leads to a drain of talented nurses from their home countries, aggravating the shortage and widening the gap between supply and demand.

Reasons for the Increasing Demand for Nurses

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for registered nurses is expected to increase by 6% from 2021 to 2031. Although this matches the average growth prospects for some other occupations, the workforce is not expected to meet this demand. Various factors, including population growth, health workforce imbalances, and societal challenges, will contribute to an even greater need for nurses, particularly in areas where the nursing workforce is already insufficient.

The global aging population is one of the most significant factors driving the demand for nurses. Over the next decade, many individuals will reach their 70s, 80s, and beyond, significantly increasing the elderly population. The aging demographic means a higher prevalence of chronic conditions, comorbidities, and complex care needs. This will place a greater burden on healthcare providers and nursing professionals.

Moreover, the old-age dependency ratio is likely to rise, which means the number of individuals aged 65 and over per 100 working-age individuals will increase significantly. The shift in demographics will pose an extraordinary challenge for the healthcare system, especially for nurses, social workers and families.

As the aging population increases, these individuals may not be treated and cared for equally. It is also essential to recognize the disparities in economic and physical welfare among older adults based on gender, race, ethnicity and geographic location. For example, older women are more likely to live alone and experience higher poverty rates than older men. Similarly, certain racial and ethnic groups have lower life expectancies and rely greatly on Social Security as their sole source of income.

Treating the older population is also more challenging in rural areas. Older adults residing in these areas often encounter social isolation and limited access to healthcare and social resources, making it difficult for nursing professionals to provide adequate care.

The demand for nursing professionals is also increasing because of the rising prevalence of mental and behavioral health conditions. This was a problem before the Covid-19 pandemic, and the situation has only gotten worse in the wake of the pandemic. There has been a significant rise in suicide rates, substance abuse cases, and severe depression among younger individuals, which has strained an already stretched mental health care system.

The shortage of behavioral health professionals is projected to reach as many as 250,000 workers by 2025. This shortage, coupled with restrictive regulations, hinders the ability of nurses to meet the growing demand for mental and behavioral health services. The gap can be bridged to some extent by expanding the scope of practice for nurse practitioners (NPs) and granting them greater autonomy. This could also offer access to care for underserved populations.

Like the United States, access to primary healthcare remains a persistent challenge for many other countries. Millions of individuals around the world do not have access to adequate healthcare services. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has expanded insurance coverage in the US, but the number of Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) continues to rise.

Increasing the number of nurses practicing in primary care and community-based settings is crucial for addressing this accessibility issue. Healthcare administrators can expand the roles of registered nurses (RNs) and empower them to use their knowledge, education, training and skills fully. This could lead to improved access to high-quality primary care through frontline workers, especially in challenging and underserved areas.

Nurses can also make a significant impact on maternal health. Maternal mortality and morbidity rates are disproportionately higher for certain populations. The healthcare industry must plan to combat these disparities by fully using RNs and increasing the number of certified midwives in the industry. A shortage of nurses specializing in women’s healthcare can create a significant challenge, especially in the context of increasing complexity in maternal care. Furthermore, the industry needs to focus on increasing diversity within the workforce to ensure equitable care for all pregnant women.

There is also a projected shortage of physicians in the healthcare industry. The demand for physicians is expected to increase in primary care, and insufficient supply will lead to an increased demand for qualified nurses to fill the gap. This further emphasizes the demand for qualified and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who can fill the gaps in healthcare delivery left by the physician shortage. The physician population is also being impacted by the factors driving the nursing shortage, such as retirements, an aging population and reduced working hours.

Possible Solutions to Manage the Nursing Shortage

To meet the global demand for qualified nursing professionals, healthcare organizations are taking steps to ensure that the shortage does not become unmanageable.

Many nursing programs are developing solutions to address the nursing shortage. Some schools are offering rolling admissions to enroll more students, while others are starting new programs. While aspiring students may think, “What can I do with a master’s in nursing?” the answer is quite simple. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from a reputable institution like Carson-Newman University will open doors to advanced nursing career paths where they can fill gaps left by physician shortages in primary care. Nurses with MSN degrees can work in various settings, including private practice, clinical research or public health roles. It also opens professional growth opportunities in leadership positions in healthcare organizations.

Nursing programs are also working with private and public practices to facilitate clinical opportunities. Certain states are investing in increasing nurse salaries to make it a more attractive career prospect.

Stress, fatigue and burnout are the most common causes of nurses choosing early retirement or leaving the profession. The increased nursing shortage has also emphasized the importance of mental healthcare for healthcare professionals. Improving the availability of appropriate resources and educating nursing professionals about these resources will help nurses use them for self-care. This can help reduce nursing burnout, thereby reducing attrition and early retirements.

Conclusion

The worldwide shortage of nursing professionals remains a formidable barrier to providing quality healthcare services, impeding efforts to improve population health, enhance well-being, and achieve universal coverage. Numerous factors are at the core of this shortage, including barriers in policy and planning, obstacles in training and enrollment, and the repercussions of high nursing staff turnover on nurses and patient health outcomes.

The insufficiency of nursing professionals has led to the rise of many detrimental consequences, ranging from compromised patient health outcomes to challenges in disease management and health improvement. Moreover, it has thrust an overwhelming workload on nurses that has resulted in a decline in the quality of nursing care, jeopardizing patient safety and exacerbating mental health issues in the workforce.

As nursing leaders and healthcare executives grapple with the implications of this global crisis, it has become increasingly evident that swift and careful intervention is paramount. Failing to address these contributing factors effectively will contribute to the decline in quality nursing care and continue to challenge the primary objective of safeguarding and enhancing global health.

It is crucial to recognize that the urgency of addressing this global nursing crisis cannot be overstated. There is a need to galvanize key stakeholders and ignite a collective sense of responsibility to address the nursing workforce shortage head on.

In conclusion, the scarcity of nursing professionals on a global scale poses formidable challenges to delivering quality healthcare. Interventions and solutions must be put in place by identifying the complex set of factors contributing to this shortage.