EDITOR’S NOTE: Paula Fessler is chief nursing officer at UNC Health. She has over 25 years of experience in the nursing profession.
As an 8th grader volunteering at a neighborhood nursing home, I saw the many ways nurses and supportive caregivers provide safe, compassionate care 24/7, to their patients and families.
This experience was the spark that led me to a very rewarding career in nursing. A nurse for more than 25 years, I have seen this profession evolve. Now, I fear clinical nurses of today and tomorrow will have a harder time finding the spark that makes nursing so rewarding.
Many of us choose a career in nursing with a desire to help others. Most Americans see that in nurses, as evidenced by the fact that nursing has been ranked among the most honest and ethical professions for 20 straight years, according to Gallup annual poll.
As Chief Nursing Officer of UNC Hospitals, one of my biggest concerns is that our current healthcare environment is creating even more challenges for our caregivers – leaving caregivers feeling overstretched and undervalued.
The pandemic has led to an unexpected number of experienced nurses leaving their current positions. Many have retired, while others have chosen to move into better paying temporary positions. Some have started a whole new career. These changes have created new dynamics and challenges within our workforce, creating a void in our talent experience and having fewer full-time nurses to onboard our new staff.
Before the pandemic, the NCNurseCast Project predicted that by 2033, our state would be cope with an estimated shortage of nearly 12,500 registered nurses. This number is likely much higher today and continues to grow due to higher nursing turnover and burnout. Meanwhile, more than 80,000 qualified aspiring nurses were rejected from nursing programs nationwide last year due to capacity limitations in nursing schools.
As we mark National Nurses Week, millions of Americans are acutely aware of the life-saving care that nurses provide. Whether they are nurses in an outpatient setting, in a nursing home, or in a hospital, nurses provide compassionate care and are primary advocates for their patients. As nurses, we generally spend more time with our patients and their families than other caregivers. We are a vital link with the entire healthcare team.
Nurses play a key role in positive patient experiences. The nurse is the one who hears about barriers to health such as lack of home support or inability to pay for medication. Hearing about these barriers, understanding them, and recognizing them can be critical to helping a patient maintain overall health and stay safe.
Throughout it all, the nurses continue to provide incredible care. They tirelessly share their specialist skills, time and compassion. However, no one has an infinite amount of time and compassion no matter how hard they try. Health workers, especially nurses, must be supported by their leaders and their health systems. We need to value our nurses. Professional development, retention and improvement of the talent pool remain constant challenges.
Having been a primary inpatient nurse, then a family nurse practitioner, and now as a nursing leader, my extensive experience helps me understand the complexities of care delivery. I could not have grown professionally without supportive leadership and colleagues. I am thrilled to support the growth of my colleagues as clinical nurses, nurse leaders and nurse educators.
As we celebrate National Nurses Week, I encourage healthcare leaders to assess how they can support their fellow nurses. In accordance with our values at UNC Health, we support the personal well-being, professional and educational goals of nurses. By empowering nurses, we can create healthier communities in Tar Heel State.
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