(TND) — Stress is up and job satisfaction is down for nurses, with some in the profession sounding the alarm over staffing shortages.
A new survey shows nurses feel worse off now than they did during the height of the pandemic.
AMN Healthcare surveyed more than 18,000 registered nurses and found a 10-point drop in career satisfaction compared to its last survey in 2021.
Still, most nurses that were polled are satisfied.
A third said they were “extremely satisfied,” and 38% said they were “somewhat satisfied,” totaling 71% of respondents.
But that’s a worrisome sign for a field that’s consistently registered satisfaction ratings over 80% in past AMN Healthcare surveys.
And satisfaction is lower among younger nurses, which could spell trouble for an industry already struggling with retaining folks. The survey showed 64% of nurses with less than five years of experience were satisfied.
Seth Lovell, system vice president of nursing at SSM Health in St. Louis, said the lower satisfaction for younger nurses, the future of the profession, is “really concerning.” Part of that likely stems from the fact that training went virtual during the pandemic, denying nursing students the opportunity to gradually develop the emotional skills to deal with patients and their families.
AMN Healthcare, a staffing company, said nursing shortages were already a growing concern with the retirement of baby boomers, deficits in nursing education, and increasing demand for medical care from an aging population.
Then the pandemic happened and made what was already a “perfect storm” worse, according to AMN Healthcare.
Chief Clinical Officer Cole Edmonson said the “survey data reveal the depth of the problems faced in nursing today.”
“The health of our nation is tied directly to the health of the nursing workforce,” he said in a news release.
Edmonson believes, “A crisis in nursing is upon us.”
Among the other findings:
Kimberly Martini, division president for nurse staffing at AMN Healthcare, said the survey shows “the nursing profession remains in turmoil even after we have emerged from the pandemic.”
“We have to find solutions to what amounts to a public health crisis,” Martini said via email. “As our population ages and as chronic illness is increasingly prevalent, we are losing trained professionals who are on the front lines of care. This problem has to be acknowledged and addressed.”
Government figures show around 3.1 million people work as registered nurses in the U.S., with about 200,000 openings projected each year over the next decade.
National Nurses United, however, disputes the notion that there is a shortage of nurses.
The union believes large numbers of nurses are choosing not to work in what they view as bad conditions.
National Nurses United says there are 1 million registered nurses with active licenses who are not working as nurses.
“I would say the job has gotten increasingly harder since I started nursing,” said Jean Ross, a nurse in Minnesota and one of the presidents of National Nurses United.
Ross has been in the field for over 40 years, and she said working conditions for nurses had deteriorated before the pandemic.
Then, the pandemic “clarified things for us. It showed the public exactly how bad things are inside the hospital. It certainly exacerbated the problems that are already there.”
Her group is advocating for federal legislation to establish nurse-to-patient ratios, because they say nurses are often tasked with looking after too many patients at once.
California is the only state to legally require a specific nurse-to-patient ratio in every hospital unit, according to a report in NurseJournal.
Massachusetts mandates a one-to-one nurse-to-patient ratio in the intensive-care unit.
Other states use public reporting requirements or hospital-based staffing committees in an effort to police nurse-to-patient ratios.
Ross said that patient workload is key to improving the working lives of nurses.
“It puts patients at risk, with the worst being mortality,” she said of asking nurses to juggle too many patients at once. “At best, (it can lead to) falls and injury from not being able to get there. What we call ‘failure to rescue.’ It puts us at risk for injuries, and our licensure, if a mistake is made.
“And if you look at our other issues that we deal with like workplace violence prevention, everything, everything relies on having enough registered nurses there.”
More hospitals, including SSM Health, are increasingly turning to the gig economy to fill critical nursing shifts.
SSM Health, which operates over 20 hospitals in the Midwest, used independent contractor nurses for almost a million hours of labor last year.
The idea is that they can more easily call in reinforcements to help wary staff nurses during the busiest times, or even to afford them an uninterrupted break. And it can keep some of these nurses in the labor pool, even if they aren’t looking for the demands of a full-time staff job.
Lovell said nurses have been resilient through the pandemic, but they continue to suffer its effects both large and small.
Anything that keeps a nurse in the profession is an important tool, and sometimes that means giving them the flexibility to work less than full time or on demand, he said.
“Being able to give some of that control in the autonomy back to the workforce I think is important,” Lovell said.