Nursing leaders from various organizations recently came together for a panel discussion hosted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to address the alarming issue of “accelerated burnout” among new nurses. According to a survey published in the Journal of Nursing Regulation in April, approximately 100,000 registered nurses (RNs) left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is projected that another 800,000 will leave within the next five years. The survey also revealed that a significant portion of the nurses who left the profession were younger and had less than 10 years of experience. This trend of early-career burnout is a cause for concern and requires urgent attention.
The Experience Gap and Its Impact
One of the primary reasons cited by younger nurses for feeling stressed and ill-prepared is the lack of readiness when entering the workforce. Karen Lyon, CEO of the Louisiana State Board of Nursing, highlighted the findings of a survey conducted by her organization, which revealed that a concerning number of newly licensed nurses were already experiencing burnout within their first two years of practice. This early-phase burnout, often referred to as “accelerated burnout,” is driven by multiple factors. Lyon emphasized that the shortage of nurses and nursing faculty, coupled with the disruption caused by the pandemic, including changes in education models and the use of simulation, have contributed to this overwhelming sense of stress and dissatisfaction among new nurses.
During the panel discussion, Maryann Alexander, Chief Officer of Nursing Regulation for the NCSBN, stressed the importance of implementing transition-to-practice programs in every healthcare institution. These formal programs would assess the skill levels of new nurses, bridge any knowledge gaps, and provide mentoring and support throughout their first year. While not all small or rural hospitals currently have such programs in place, Alexander strongly advocated for their implementation.
Additionally, leveraging virtual nurses has proven to be effective in supporting newly licensed nurses. Experienced remote nurses have been employed specifically to assist in onboarding new nurses, offering them guidance and support. This approach allows new nurses to access the expertise of senior nurses without feeling like they are taking away valuable time from patient care. This intervention has demonstrated success in reducing nurse turnover and improving job satisfaction.
Examining Nurse Staffing Ratios
The idea of nurse staffing ratios as a solution to address burnout and workforce challenges was met with general support from the panelists. However, they emphasized the crucial need for nurses to be the ones determining these ratios, rather than legislators or external entities. Each patient is unique, with differing diagnoses and comorbidities, and staffing ratios must be tailored to meet the specific needs of the patient population in each healthcare setting. Nurse staffing ratios take into account not only the patients’ needs but also the varying skill levels of nurses, particularly when shifts have a higher proportion of new nurses.
It is worth noting that the American Nurses Association recently expressed support for a federal staffing ratios bill, signaling the growing recognition of the issue. However, the NCSBN does not have a formal stance on staffing ratios at this time.
Eileen Fry-Bowers, Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Nursing and Health Professions, emphasized the importance of focusing on the well-being of the existing nursing workforce to effectively support the next generation of nurses. When experienced nurses and preceptors are in good mental and physical health, they can provide the necessary mentorship and guidance to newer nurses. The proverbial adage “It takes a village to raise a nurse” rings true in this context, highlighting the interdependence within the nursing community.
Addressing the issue of accelerated burnout among new nurses requires collaborative efforts from nursing leaders, healthcare institutions, and regulatory bodies. Implementing transition-to-practice programs, leveraging virtual nurses, and allowing nurses to determine appropriate staffing ratios are critical steps toward addressing burnout and ensuring the well-being of the nursing workforce. By supporting the existing nursing workforce and promoting a nurturing environment, the profession can retain and empower new nurses for a sustainable future. It is essential to recognize the unique challenges faced by new nurses and provide them with the resources and support they need to thrive in their careers.