With an aging population, there’s a greater need for nurses in our health system than ever before. Yet, instead of a growing staff, many hospitals are seeing their numbers decline as older members of the work force retire. Because of this, hospitals are struggling to give the high quality care patients need and deserve.

While there will remain an urgent need for more nurses in the long term, hospitals have had to develop strategies for handling this lack of nursing professionals. Until then, here are 3 strategies your practice or hospital can employ to handle the nursing shortage.

Be Flexible

Every medical practice requires nurses to run smoothly, and there are typically a minimum number needed to safely handle the caseload at any time, particularly in hospitals. Many nurses, however, are juggling families and school in addition to their career as nurses. This can make it hard for these employees to stick to a dictated schedule.

Instead of forcing a schedule on nurses, offering schedule flexibility can help hospitals handle their shortages. When nurses are allowed to change their schedules in a cooperative manner, they are not only inclined to help each other as friends and colleagues, but also experience greater job satisfaction and less stress. This can cut turnover rates and keep nurses on staff.

Stick To The Protocols

Reports about the current state of nursing have shown that the number of nurses on staff at a hospital is directly related to positive patient outcomes - meaning that a nursing shortage can result in unnecessary infections, injuries, and even death.

In order to prevent negative outcomes when faced with a nursing shortage, hospitals and medical practices should emphasize and review key patient care protocols. You may even institute checklists that prevent staff from skipping key steps, but that ultimately save them time by putting all the main concerns in one place. It’s also important to remind nurses about simple steps like hand washing and wearing masks that protect nurses and patients alike.

Offer Educational Options

Nurses hold varying levels of qualifications – some have gone through basic licensing programs at the associate’s level while others seek a bachelor’s degree or further qualification. Employers should encourage nurses to pursue these greater educational attainments and offer them the flexibility and financial support needed to complete them. When their current employer supports them, nurses are more likely to remain with the practice than seek employment elsewhere after completing a degree.

One effective way to encourage nurses to pursue further educational attainments is by using the lure of money, since a key reason for the nursing shortage is inadequate financial compensation for time committed to the job.

Financial issues are especially common among LPNs who currently make only a little over $40,000 a year. Those who push through RN or CNS certifications, however, can increase their salary to over $65,000. That’s a big difference! Furthermore, for nurse practitioners, income can reach nearly $100,000. Nurses are rewarded for their educational attainments, but many don’t have the opportunity or support to pursue this education.

Mind The Gap

The shortage of nurses needed to care for the patient population will only continue to grow over the coming years, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Many more people are completing nursing school than are employed in the field, and even among those who enter the field, 50% leave their first job within two years.

If workplaces embrace improving work-life balance for the nursing population, offering flexible hours, shorter shifts, and support for educational advancement, turnover rates may begin to decrease. But most importantly, nurses want to feel like a valued part of the medical team. It’s time to elevate nurses’ needs because doctors, hospitals, and patients need nurses.