Hospitals are currently competing for nurses as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. The issue is so bad that between lack of RNs, nurses quitting due to the stress, and hospital staff get sick, on average, emergency rooms around the country are currently operating with at least five fewer nurses than the recommended minimum.
Nurses are leaving because they are in the risk category for COVID-19, or they have families, especially older relatives, to take care of at home, and sometimes they have to choose between the safety of their loved ones and the job that they love. It is a difficult but necessary decision.
Between the existing shortage of nurses and those who are leaving and quitting their jobs, there has never been a moment where being a nurse has been more important. Not only that, but hospitals and the healthcare industry are stepping up to the plate. Some are offering signing bonuses of over $10,000 for RNs with just one year of experience. Pay is currently between $1500 to $5000 per week depending on the area, as hospitals desperately try to draw from the ever-shrinking pool of nurses.
There are many challenges working as a nurse at this time, but there are also untold opportunities for a long, stable career. Nursing is a calling, and it is also one of the single most essential positions in the entire world.
More nurses need to train and advance their career, and the only way to do that is through education either undertaken online or in a physical higher education institution. The challenges posed by working full time as a nurse while pursuing a degree are numerous and addressing them head-on is the best way to support working nurses through 2021 and beyond.
The biggest challenge in an ordinary setting for working nurses to pursue online nursing programs is the simple question of energy. While some roles will enable nurses to work a more consistent routine, most work will be found in hospitals, where shift-work and grueling hours are the norm. Add on to the fact that many nurses may be forced or otherwise pressured to taking on extra shifts or overtime to meet demand, and the issue of energy becomes even more insistent.
This does not mean that it is impossible. Improving energy levels and support systems is essential to help nurses progress through their online nursing programs while working full-time.
An increase in foods that provide many vitamins and nutrients essential for energy production is a must. This should be done both personally and through the hospital or clinic. Upgrading the snacks and refreshments that staff have access to will enable more productive employees and encourage more nurses to pursue their next qualification.
The vitamins and nutrients in question include:
- Vitamin D
- The B Vitamins
Though the best method of obtaining these vitamins is to consume either the foods that contain them or through fortified foods, vitamins are an essential tool to keep in mind. This is particularly true for those vitamins that staff are deficient in.
Providing a health check-up for each nurse and physician, right down to which vitamins and nutrients they are missing out on, can help employers improve every one of their staff members’ health, energy levels, and cognitive abilities. Not only will doing this strengthen their work ethic, but hospitals will also be able to support their staff when completing online nursing programs physically and emotionally in the process.
Caffeine, especially in high doses such as coffee, can cause a series of problems. The energy crash, the amplified anxiety, the sleep disruption, and more are just the tip of the iceberg on what coffee and extreme caffeine doses can do to a person. This is not a hard-fast rule, but it is preferable to reduce reliance on caffeine in every case.
A good night’s sleep is invaluable, both to nurses on shift and those who need the extra energy to continue working on their online nursing programs. Though hospitals and employers cannot provide too much support here, there are options. Providing pamphlets, leaflets, and other means of information on how to control the sleep cycle is a great place to start. For busy hospitals, offering staff sleep pods to help cope with busy, demanding shifts can be essential for their wellbeing and could also be critical to their safety.
Sleep pods can allow nurses to sleep on their breaks and also to have someplace to rest after a shift (especially if the alternative driving home tired). Several hospitals have begun to do this, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, to help support staff. The added benefit is that nurses who are also completing online nursing programs can recharge even just a little bit through the day, enabling them to learn and study better on their own time.
Exercise is a complicated issue for nurses. Most will be on their feet and doing grueling work. The work itself is physically exhausting, and adding additional exercise seems like a non-essential problem. However, the fact is that exercise can help reduce strain on shift and, more importantly, improve cognitive function and energy by boosting circulation. Yoga and other mindful activities, in particular, offer huge advantages for working staff, as well as student nurses working on completing online nursing programs.
Providing several sessions throughout the day can help nurses and staff deal with stress, emotional fatigue, and physical fatigue. It works to open the muscles, improve circulation, and also builds strength and flexibility. These can help reduce the amount of physical exertion any shift takes, and of course, is a notoriously excellent wellness booster.
Taking care of staff’s emotional and physical health is essential, especially for those continuing their education with online nursing programs.
Providing Support for Nurses at Work
The best way to encourage nurses to further their education and training is to provide ample work resources. Many the commute can suck the last remaining vestiges of energy a person has, especially if they travel more than an hour to get to or from work. The best way to help nurses work and then continue with their online nursing programs is to provide a location where they can study either on their break, before or after their shift.
This can help all nurses at the hospital or other healthcare setting in several ways. Not only does it provide a productive environment to work on their online nursing programs, but it also allows nurses to benefit from social learning. Even if each nurse is studying for a different credential or different MSN online nursing programs, doing it all together can help with motivation and understanding.
Staying Healthy and Safe
Reducing the risk for nursing staff is always a top priority, but due to the close proximity, and the emotional distress of patients and their families, it can be hard for hospitals to enforce the necessary rules and precautions to protect their staff. Frequent testing is a must, yes, but all healthcare situations must also enact these standards:
Ensuring Strict PPE Standards
While those in hospitals and other very high-risk areas are not likely to ever become lax with their personal protective equipment standards if they can help it, it does not hurt to have some take on the role of oversight. Ensuring that everyone, including visitors, is wearing proper PPE, and wearing it correctly can substantially reduce transmission and risk.
Enforcing Rules of Conduct for Patients and Staff
Creating guidelines for conduct is another way to help protect staff, but again the risk is less with nurses and the healthcare staff themselves and more about patients and visitors. Visitors should be checked for a temperature, use disinfectant gel, wash their hands, and always wear a face mask. All visitors must provide contact details or check-in with their government-approved track and trace app before being admitted.
Allocating Telehealth Roles to Nurses at Risk
For nurses who are either personally at risk themselves or who have an at-risk family member, telehealth roles should be allocated if and when possible. This allows patients who need medical care and attention to seek out professional advice from the comfort of their own homes. It is ideal for those patients quarantining or self-isolating, as well as those in rural communities.
Telehealth work to help support communities at large also allows nurses to adopt a healthy work/study balance that can sometimes be difficult when working shifts, especially if overtime is necessary. By enabling nurses, the option to work in a telehealth role, rather than put themselves or loved ones at risk, the healthcare industry as a whole can reduce the number of nurses leaving the industry and encourage CNA and LPN to train and complete the online nursing programs necessary to graduate to an RN.
The same applies to APRNs, who are necessary for their advanced skillset, especially in pressured areas and telehealth. Online nursing programs can easily fill in the gap and make it simple and straightforward for RNs to learn and work, but they must fulfill certain criteria and be designed with the career, and the pandemic, in mind.
Encouraging the Next Generation
Providing support physically, emotionally, and mentally can help existing nurses and nursing staff pursue their degrees and help them successfully handle both their career and education. It does not, however, address the shortage problem. It merely works to strengthen the existing bodies of nurses.
We need more people with the calling to enter nursing and choose nursing as their profession. The rise of telehealth and the expansion of the population mean that previous numbers will be inefficient beyond just the pandemic. It is imperative to entice and encourage the next generation of nurses to do that its education is key.
This can be done in a variety of ways.
1. Provide training and education in high school
It is a great idea to host training or educational seminars in high schools around the country. First-aid training can be subsidized and made affordable through the school and even sponsored by the education sector entirely depending on funds. The purpose of this is two-fold. It improves the education and skillset of the general populace, allowing more bystanders to take action in everyday life.
It also works to introduce students to the importance and workload that many nurses will see daily.
2. Improve Volunteer and Student Training Programs
Teenagers can volunteer, but the process is cumbersome and not a choice that many make right off the bat. This can be circumvented by improving training programs and volunteer positions. For example, rather than only hosting volunteer opportunities in hospitals, having volunteer opportunities with the student nurse or school-wide health and safety training can introduce those calling to the field.
3. Highlight the Importance and Flexibility of the Role
There is a lot of inherent interest in medicine, but when students aspire to work in healthcare, they do not immediately become nurses. Precedence is on being a doctor, which is often viewed as much better paid and more laudable. APRNs consistently make over $100,000, and some can even start their own practice depending on the state they live. Nurses are also better able to travel, thanks to the Nurse Licensure Compact, meaning that nursing can be a very lucrative and flexible career in ways that being a physician is not. Advertising this, alongside the fact that certified nursing assistants can slowly work their way up by continuing their education while they work, needs to be done more often.
There is a huge price barrier to becoming a doctor that is not there when it comes to nursing. This means that those who are worried or struggling with tuition can choose nursing instead and work and learn at the same time until they reach a very well-paid, in-demand career that they can do almost anywhere, from a hospital to a movie set, to an expedition under the sea.