It’s Nurses Week! A Look at Nurse Staffing Today

If you’re celebrating Nurses Week, you know it’s all about appreciation. There’s good reason for that; the nurse experience and nurse staffing can be rewarding and challenging in equal measure. As our President and SNO Whittney LaCroix wrote:

“As you know, being a nurse is no easy task. Your job encompasses the full spectrum of the human experience – from the welcoming of new life to the solemn duty of witnessing its departure. You handle this responsibility with grace, love, compassion, gratitude, and grit. Even when it feels like the most thankless job in the world, you continue to show up every single day. You do this because it is not just a job, it is a calling and so much a part of who you are as a person.”

What an eloquent summary of nursing life. And it begs the question: past the gifts and slogans and social media posts, do nurses feel appreciated during the other 51 weeks of the year? What is nursing life really like today?

Let’s take a look.

Nurse Staffing Shortages and Patient Demand

It’s hard to discuss the nursing field today without hearing the word “shortage.” Nurse staffing challenges have persisted long after the crisis stage of the pandemic subsided. Currently there’s an estimated shortage of 200,000 to 450,000 nurses in the US. 98% of hospital chief financial officers say shortages are a problem – unsurprising given that 86% of health systems had 10% or more of their nursing staff quit in 2023. A Mayo Clinic study says that by 2030, we’ll see an estimated exodus of one million nurses into retirement.

The impact of that exit, of course, falls on patient safety. 88% of nurses say staffing shortages negatively impact patient care. And it’s not just a matter of filling the unit with registered nurses. A new nurse simply can’t contribute the same insight, intuition, and knowledge that a seasoned nurse brings to the table. New generations of nurses benefit from mentorship and hard-earned wisdom from experienced nurse leaders in their workforce.

If you’re wondering where these older nurses are going – quite a few have opted for other employment paths such as telehealth, ambulatory centers, school nursing, or administrative jobs. Some have turned to teaching but not enough; the lack of nursing school faculty means some nursing schools currently turn away qualified applicants.

Unfortunately, it’s the same nurses who are retiring may feel the shortage impact the most – as patients. Longer life expectancies are creating a growing elderly population who will require unprecedented amounts of geriatric, inpatient, and resident care. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there will be 77 million people who are age 65 or older by 2034 – which means nurses who retire from the bedside in this decade may find themselves patients in an understaffed, struggling healthcare system in the next.


Compensation and Culture: Keeping Nurses Happy

Nurse pay rose dramatically during the early pandemic, then dropped somewhat. This has annoyed some nurses, who feel they are still overworked and underresourced.

To attract more nurses, 77% of CFOs said they increased the starting wages for nurses by at least 20% in the past two years. But nurses paint a different picture. In the same study, 78% said they earned just enough to meet household needs with little to nothing left over for extras – and 64% said they are not fairly compensated for their work.

One bright spot: respect for locums is on the rise. A survey from Eliciting Insights and Nursa found that 93% of health leaders saying locums are as valuable as their employee nurses. Another study from Incredible Health found that programs to reduce nurse burnout are having a positive effect, with small gains in mental health reported.

That’s good news, right? Yet almost a quarter of nurses (23%) say they are very likely to leave their role this year. Some of those reasons include feeling stretched thin by caring for too many patients at a time (63%) while 53% say they lack adequate support from nursing peers or managers.

Disturbingly, half say they have been verbally and/or physically assaulted by a patient or a member of the patient’s family within the past year. 26% say they are likely to leave their current role because of this incident.



The Inevitable Impact of AI

Artificial intelligence is spreading into every corner of the healthcare industry. Nurses tend to have a generational divide in their feelings about AI; 69% of nurses age 55 and older think that AI will have a negative impact on the industry, while only 44% of nurses age 18-24 feel the same way. Pro-AI nurses are excited about its potential to alleviate their administrative burdens and create more time for patient care. Some already use AI for patient intake tasks and creating care summaries – and to look for new jobs.

Creating a Culture of Nurse Appreciation

Year after year, nurses are reported as the most trusted professional…. And year after year, nurses report workplace dynamics that take them for granted. So how can we build nurse staffing practices where nurses are genuinely appreciated and valued – and staffed appropriately? A few ideas:

  • Monitor nurse satisfaction. Surveys are great, but effective nurse leaders will also learn to observe nonverbal cues that indicate burnout, compassion fatigue, and low morale.


  • Encourage open and candid feedback. Nurses must feel able to speak out about inefficiencies or suggest changes and solutions to ongoing issues. Realistically, this can devolve into gossip and venting without defined parameters – so create specific channels and times to structure feedback and keep it constructive.


  • Create appreciation programs. Are current recognition programs working? Nurses may prefer public acknowledgement or workplace awards or bonuses; just make sure the program is heartfelt and beneficial or staff will sense it’s a hollow gesture.


  • Offer professional and career development. Nurses enjoy acquiring new skills and proficiencies, something that benefits the facility as well as their career. Offer educational pathways and certifications so your team has opportunities to advance.


  • Ensure adequate staffing. Locums is always an option; facilities that don’t want to staff up may quickly face patient safety and nurse retention issues. And on a related note…


  • Honor work-life balance. Easier said than done, we know. But flexible scheduling options can go a long way toward allowing nurses to fully unplug. Balancing bedside care with other duties can also help nurses protect their energy levels and mental health.


Nurses Week is the perfect time to build a culture of nurse appreciation that lasts throughout the year. How are you honoring the nurses in your life?

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