Understanding and Supporting the Nursing Workforce
There is no question that the nursing healthcare workforce bears the brunt of the COVID-19 global outbreak. Nurses are the frontline warriors in the raging COVID battle and sustain the lion’s share of the emotional and physical trauma of caring for sick and dying patients.
They are both the heroes and victims of this unrelenting disease and it comes as no surprise that many of them have experienced total burnout. Recently, McKinsey and Company conducted a worldwide survey of nurses affected by the COVID pandemic. Their findings are sobering and cautionary.
Impact of COVID on the Nursing Community
According to McKinsey and Company, over twenty-two percent of nurses involved in COVID care may leave their current position providing direct patient care within the next year. At a time when nurses are most needed, a significant strain in the workforce exists due to the pandemic.
Health systems and other employers of nurses recognize this challenge and are actively designing and deploying new strategies. The pandemic fundamentally forced the healthcare industry to think differently about how care is being delivered and how workforces are managed.
A New Vision for the Healthcare Workforce
On a positive note, providers incorporated technology into care models, enacted new flexibility in workforce planning and deployment, and rapidly re-skilled their teams.
But the toll on frontline workers has called for a new vision for the workforce that incorporates learnings and aspirations for the future of work. In its 2021 Future of Work in Nursing Survey, McKinsey asked nurses what they most want from their employers in terms of support and their willingness to try different care delivery models. Their input should help inform healthcare organizations to evolve their strategies.
Nurses offered the following insights:
- Make workforce health and well-being part of the fabric of healthcare. Surveyed nurses are looking for more support from the organizations that employ them. Recognition, (appreciation and economic rewards commensurate with their value), communication, and breaks to recharge are paramount. Also important are increased availability and accessibility of resources such as mental health services.
- Re-imagine delivery models. Organizations may consider how to leverage digital tools and adapt care models based on patient and employee preferences. For example, some employers may continue (or expand) clinician use of telemedicine platforms, allowing nurses to work remotely more often.
- Strengthen talent pipelines and build skills for the future. Demand for talent is increasing, and skill sets and capabilities required are shifting. Organizations will need to reskill in some areas, as well as bolster their recruiting pipeline for clinical roles—in some cases leaning on new partners or professional development pathways.
- Not all nurses experienced the pandemic the same way. 17 percent of nurses surveyed said they are more likely to stay in the nursing profession given their experience during COVID-19. The strongest drivers of their decision to stay were economic—including favorable compensation and economic stability—as well as flexibility in hours or shifts. However, nurses also reported support of management, impact on patients’ and families’ lives, and pride of being a nurse as key.
The Imperative for Management Support
Clearly, healthcare leaders are being compelled to dramatically step up the support of their workforce in this unprecedented crisis. Recognition and workforce engagement are among the most critical elements in a healthcare organization’s successful patient care outcomes.
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