The medical system is asking too much from its staff—at the cost of nurses, physicians, and patients in the long term.
- As we previously reported, the greater medical community faces a massive shortage of physicians that could compromise the system’s quality in the coming decades.
- Widespread burnout from the pandemic and its lingering effects has resulted in hundreds of thousands of physicians, nurses, assistants, and specialists seeking work in other fields.
- A 2020 study from the American Nurses Association notes that 62% of nurses experience burnout and that younger nurses under the age of 25 report 69% burnout.
- A similar study this month from AMN Healthcare shows that nurse worker satisfaction is dropping as signs of burnout and stress increase.
- Nurse practitioners and ER staff were forced to handle 80 to 90 patients per day during the pandemic, and many hospitals have failed to scale back the high demands on remaining staff.
Why It’s Important
The medical system is reaching a dangerous point of stress that stands to radically harm the quality of available health care in the U.S. within the coming decades as experienced medical personnel age out of the system and an insufficient supply of young medical personnel replace them. The changing demands of insurance companies and tighter hospital wallets are similarly forcing nurses, physicians, and assistants to take on additional work well after the pandemic ended.
Christine Callander is a family nurse practitioner at PureHealth in Plano, Texas. She began her career at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and worked in the emergency room through the height of the pressure and stress. She tells Leaders Media that, while the chaos has settled down, pandemic burnout and layoffs have created a system-wide shortage of nearly every position in health care—including primary care physicians, nurses, specialists, medical assistants, and nursing aids.
“The problem we are facing now started before the pandemic and was exacerbated by it. Nurse-to-patient ratios were off before the pandemic, but they became worse. We faced a loss of staff, and now the remaining staff is expected to do the work of a full staff. We had to get through a crisis by nearly doubling the patient load. We haven’t changed our mindset to what’s best for the patients and nurses. We’re still functioning like it’s crisis mode. We were already shifting in that direction, and COVID made it worse,” says Callander.
Callander says that the problem is due in part to the way that insurance companies reimburse hospitals and clinics. She claims that they are not reimbursing the bulk of nursing work, which has constricted the hospital’s budgets and forced them to consolidate and make cuts—increasing the expectations of remaining staff to nearly double the number of patients they are seeing on a daily basis. This is coming at the detriment of both staff and patients—the latter of whom are receiving less attentive care.
“Solutions are multifaceted because we’re doing with multiple specialties. I cannot speak to what medical schools are doing to recruit or expand more. But there have been studies done showing that the majority of new students coming out of medical school want to specialize, which should help meet our shortage needs. But we’re also seeing more nurses become nurse practitioners—helping fill primary care needs. Gaps are being filled, but it is creating new gaps in other areas,” she says.
The greatest current demands in the market are for nursing and primary care, but shortages are common in all areas of the industry. The patient-nurse ratio is currently unbalanced and unsustainable. Callander also argues that practitioners lack mental healthcare to help them grapple with job-related stress and trauma. “They see and work through some of the worst challenges. When you’re stretched thin and working harder than is beneficial, there’s a greater emotional toll and unspoken mental health need that isn’t being filled.”