It's Time to Reimagine Nurse Staffing: 3 Things to Consider

The nurse staffing shortage didn’t start with the pandemic, but it demands that healthcare leaders take a fresh look at why it exists and the barriers that get in the way of recruiting and retaining nursing talent.

The statistics are all too familiar: One out of three nurses wanted to leave bedside nursing in 2022, and nine out of 10 believe the nursing shortage is getting worse, according to a survey by By 2030, all but eight states could have fewer nurses than they need, the survey found.

But the focus on “right now” and “what’s next” distracts healthcare leaders from facing the hard facts: Nursing shortages are a complex phenomenon that began to take shape even before WWII and have continued to challenge hospitals and healthcare facilities for 90+ years. And unless leaders expand their perspective and go beyond solutions suggested in the 1930s—like incentivizing students to attend nursing school rather than incentivizing nurses to remain in the workforce—healthcare organizations will be hard-pressed to make a sustainable difference.

The Need for a New Model for Nurse Staffing

The nurse staffing shortage is bigger than nurses or nurse staffing firms. It will take insight from a diverse group of experts in technology, user experience, workforce management and more, in addition to perspectives from nurses and others within healthcare, to develop the right solutions to meet today’s needs and tomorrow's challenges.

For instance, an analysis by McKinsey & Company, which has collected data around nurse satisfaction and pain points over the past five years, found nurse workforce challenges are exacerbated by familiar frustrations, including the desire for greater time for professional growth. They also crave more time for direct patient care, which could contribute to higher-quality care, and fewer administrative demands per shift, a wish list that could be achieved through tech-enabled support.

And while digital tech holds tremendous potential to reinvent how nurses are assigned to shifts, how they are supported as caregivers throughout their shift, and their emotional and physical recovery after a stressful shift is over, it takes “boundaryless collaboration” for successful execution. That’s difficult to achieve when caregiving teams work in silos, an Accenture report notes.

Taking a Transformational Approach

How can healthcare leaders move beyond the status quo toward a nurse staffing and deployment model that resonates with nurses while filling crucial gaps in their organizations? Here are three approaches to consider.

  1. Put the power of staffing in the hands of nurses. Traditional nurse staffing models often are inefficient and nontransparent. Worse, they don’t offer the level of flexibility that certain segments of nurses—from single parents to CNAs to nurses in the 25-to-40 age group, the hardest age demographic to retain—especially crave. Innovative hospital leaders are beginning to flip their thinking around how to staff nursing shifts by leaning into a tech-enabled model that allows nurses to select which shifts they work, where they work them, and even whom they work with. For instance, rather than approaching the need for staffing by saying, “I need a nurse to work during this 13-week period,” these leaders have begun to define their need as, “I have seven shifts I need to fill during this 13-week period”—and they’re open to allowing multiple nurses to select open shifts according to their preferences. This level of flexibility is a satisfaction-builder for nurses that contributes to a better care delivery experience for them and, ultimately, their patients. It’s also a cost-saver for hospitals, which gain the ability to lessen reliance on high-cost travel nurses—who often cherry-pick the best shifts, to the detriment of full-time staff—and avoid onerous and restrictive staffing firm contracts.
  2. Explore a data science-backed approach to supply-and-demand staffing. One emerging approach relies on machine learning-based models for nurse staffing that help pair the right nurses with the right opportunities according to their personal preferences and the needs of the population the organization serves. Another artificial intelligence-powered tool integrates with the EHR to predict operating room (OR) availability, automate OR scheduling requests, and determine staffing levels. The impact for one large healthcare system: a 7% increase in surgical cases, according to Accenture.
  3. Look for tech-enabled solutions that increase professional satisfaction. The primary reasons nurses consider leaving the workforce include not feeling valued by their organization and struggles with unmanageable workloads, according to the McKinsey survey. By investing in tools that help automate administrative tasks, organizations can provide more time for peer-to-peer training and coaching and one-on-one patient care—critical to job satisfaction. They can also leverage these tools to increase efficiency as well as patient throughput.

By broadening their perspective around nursing shortage challenges and solutions, healthcare leaders can more effectively strengthen nurse recruitment and retention while improving the care experience for clinicians and patients alike.



Curtis Anderson is CEO and founder, Nursa.


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