By Jennifer Riggs
Texas Metro News
Nurses made up 30% of hospital employment in 2019. Though they are critical to our healthcare system, nurses are still undervalued by society.
People tend to look at them as just doctors’ helpers or assistants rather than independent professionals who work as hard as other healthcare workers to provide support to patients.
But as the largest healthcare profession, they’re on the frontlines when a health crisis occurs — a job description that was tested to its limits by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nurses: Frontline Heroes of the Pandemic
In 2021, much of the world is still reeling from the long-lasting effects of the pandemic. Though it has one of the most advanced healthcare infrastructures globally, America was unprepared for the sudden surge of COVID-19 cases last year.
This put everyone immediately at risk of the virus — especially nurses who work closely with patients. They provide direct care to patients showing mild to severe symptoms of the coronavirus, assessing their needs and interventions.
But being a nurse has become an extremely dangerous job during the pandemic because of their exposure to the virus. They also face problems such as a lack of PPE, causing them to reuse single-use face masks and even treat patients with little to no protective equipment.
Amidst this heroism, the US is facing a shortage of nurses, making their situation even harder. Despite having around 4 million registered nurses in the US workforce, the continuing rise of COVID-19 cases means the country will need about 1.1 million more nurses by 2022 in order to fill the gap.
However, COVID-19 has served as a wake-up call not just for the healthcare sector to hire more nurses.
According to a US News article on nursing school admissions, the pandemic has also sparked an interest among students, and universities and nursing schools are receiving a high number of inquiries and applications.
Face-to-face classes are still a challenge, so colleges are pivoting by promoting their online programs instead. Those with no nursing education can get certifications and degrees to become registered nurses (RNs), while those who are already RNs can take online RN to BSN degrees.
This type of program is more advanced and lets nurses specialize in certain areas, like mental health or gerontology. Plus, online nursing degrees are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, which means that graduates are just as qualified as those who trained in a traditional way. While this may help supply capable nurses, it still won’t be enough to fill the gap.
Why We Must Address the Nursing Shortage Now
Instead of simply relying on nursing schools for new nurses, it’s also important to recognize problems that cause a shortage — namely how to retain nurses. As previously mentioned, nursing has become a very dangerous profession that’s made even more stressful due to inadequate working conditions, such as a lack of PPE and understaffing. The mental and emotional distress has caused some nurses to leave their jobs or get sick themselves.
This only makes the situation worse, aggravating staffing issues. Many nurses now work long 12- to 16- hour shifts, causing them to suffer from widespread health and wellness problems such as being overweight, getting inadequate sleep, and experiencing burnout. A surge in coronavirus cases due to the new Delta variant is once again putting pressure on these nurses. It’s more highly contagious compared to other strains, and it currently makes up 83% of COVID-19 cases in the US. If we continue to turn a blind eye to the nursing shortages, we might end up fighting a losing battle.
Nurses are putting their lives on the line in order to fight the coronavirus. And for all the difficulties that they go through to keep their patients alive, we should be doing as much as we can to help them. More than just expressing our gratitude, nurses should be given proper working conditions in order for them to do their job without sacrificing their well-being.
Jennifer Riggs is a freelance writer who covers everything from current events to health and wellness. When she isn’t typing away on her laptop, she is tending to her indoor garden — she started with two table plants before the pandemic and now has over fifty in her studio apartment.