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America’s Nursing Shortage: Why We Need You!

By Olivia Schuh, ’21 | November 18, 2019

Olivia Schuh and LiamI’m a non-traditional student and a Junior in the nursing program here at Marian University. I have a five-year-old son with special needs. His name is Liam. When he was three, I applied for a full-time home health nurse. The first year worked out great; we had a full-time nurse who cared for him while I was hard at work on my studies. Sadly, she moved out of state leaving us to find a replacement. Things have been rocky ever since.

This year, Liam entered kindergarten. He is constantly behind in his work. In addition to health issues, he is developmentally delayed. His fine motor skills are not up to par, so it is difficult for him to learn how to read and write—the foundations of kindergarten. Additionally, he had two emergency surgeries last month, which caused him to miss school, making him even further behind. We need a full-time nurse to help him overcome these challenges and help him throughout the day, which can sometimes feel like an impossible task.

Orienting a new nurse is a challenge. How can an entire medical history be summarized in just 10 minutes? How am I then expected to leave him alone with them for 8-10 hours, hoping he will be properly cared for? I fight this battle of confidence every single day. 

Over the last two years, about 50 nurses have come into our home. Unfortunately, they would take care of Liam for about a minute, then vanish. One week, we had new nurse every single day!

Our home healthcare agency has 206 locations in 23 states, with three in Indiana. They provide services for all ages and most special needs, including patients with complicated medical histories. They claim to have 30,000 caregivers providing for over 33,000 families annually; which, to me, sounds like 3,000 families are like us—without a stable nursing provider.

America has a nursing shortage that is only expected to get worse. According to the United States Census Bureau, “By 2034, there will be 77.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.5 million under the age of 18.” We need to be educating more nurses to take care of an aging population.

The overall health of Americans is failing. Almost every patient I have helped care for during my clinicals has had diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “6 in 10 adults in the US have a chronic disease [while] 4 in 10 adults in the US have two or more.” The number of health problems that the typical senior citizen is diagnosed with has increased, and they need proper care which can result in multiple hospitalizations and advanced, long-term healthcare needs.

If you decide to enter Marian University’s nursing program, you’ll see a lot of older patients. Your first clinical will likely be at a nursing home and will give you a chance to learn to communicate with the elderly. It’s so much fun and you gain the confidence you need to care for them!  

However, patients are not the only ones aging in the U.S. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers released results of a 2018 survey pinning the age of 50.9 percent of the entire nursing workforce to be over 50. Eventually, those nurses will retire, leaving behind a void in our healthcare system and fewer nurses to care for an increasing number of patients. 

During a recent hospital stay following one of Liam’s surgeries, I noticed that same 50/50 demographic split reflected in the nurses on the unit. I knew one of the nurses approaching retirement age pretty well, so I asked her how being a nurse had changed over the years. She admitted she couldn’t do quite as much as she used to, but she still does the majority of the things the younger nurses do; and she's often looked to for leadership. 

Our current nursing shortage has made the practice of understaffing nurses a common occurrence in the healthcare industry: Something I have witnessed as a family member, a patient, and now as a student. When Liam was on the medical-surgical unit after a procedure, he became very ill from the anesthesia. We had to call the nurses constantly, but it would sometimes take up to an hour just to get a nurse or a tech (a nurse’s assistant) to respond. I was grateful that we had been on that particular unit so many times that I knew where everything was, and I had the nursing skills we needed to get Liam cleaned up. 

During clinicals, I see the clear frustration the nurses express. The amount of stress a nurse is expected to overcome can be unrealistic. It takes a lot of energy, skill, and focus to get everything done as quickly as possible with as few mistakes as possible. I know that anything I can do for them is a big help. 

Every day, I push myself during my clinicals and ask to do more. It’s a valuable learning experience for me, and the nurses get some relief, as well. I manage my stress by staying extremely organized. My medical-surgical professor has our clinical group make a “time tape,” which is basically a list of the hours we are on the floor (usually 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). Then, we fill in ahead of time what we are going to do during those hours. For example, at 7 a.m., I am going to look at the patient’s chart (history, labs, medications, procedures, etc.). At 7:30 a.m., I am going to do my initial patient assessment, and so on. This process gives us an idea of what to do during the day, how we should pace ourselves, and how to prioritize patients. 

There are other people in this world like Liam and my family that need nurses to care for them. Unfortunately, there are just not enough nurses to go around. Which is why we need you. Yes, Marian’s nursing curriculum is tough, but nurses need to be tough and well-versed in order to meet the growing needs of their patients.

I know I’ll walk out of here as an incredibly well-prepared nurse, you know, the kind my family and America needs right now. 

Edited by Elizabeth Griffith, M.S.

Related: Top 10 Reasons to Become a Nurse

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