The scarcity of qualified health personnel, especially nurses, is currently one of the biggest obstacles to achieving an effective health system at a global and national level. The U.S. has been experiencing a nursing shortage for several decades now, but with the prospect of an aging population, the crisis seems to have dramatically escalated.

The nursing shortage is hitting Michigan healthcare facilities particularly hard. According to a recent article published in The Mining Journal, Michigan is facing difficulties due to the lack of trained healthcare professionals in the state, and the fact that many qualified nurses have reached retirement age.

The Michigan Nursing Crisis

Earlier in May, one hospital near Detroit reported a ratio of one patient care assistant per 17 patients. At the beginning of November, seven nurses filed a lawsuit against the hospital for improper treatment conditions that violate public health code and endanger the patients’ life. They were joined by the Michigan Nurses Association in complaint for injunctive relief against the hospital.

Improper conditions were also invoked in a recent crisis at a health system in the Upper Peninsula region, where nurses threatened to go on strike over shortage issues, mandatory overtime, and unsafe patient settings.

The state of Michigan RN numbers have hit a low in 2017, with only 123,485 registered professionals; the licensed numbers have fallen by an average 3.5%, every year since 2014. Additionally, more than 40 percent of Michigan’s nurses are over 55 years old and are expected to retire within the next decade, according to the 2017 Michigan Annual Nurse Survey Project.

The burnout rate for the nursing profession is also high at a national scale. The number of new nurses who leave the field has been found to be about 17 percent, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Of these, more than 33 percent leave after only two years.

Reasons for a Shortage of Nurses

Several reasons can be identified to explain the shortage of nurses in Michigan and across the country. The high rate of attrition that medical staffs deal with is largely caused by overtime work and the overall lack of qualified health professionals that can meet the demands of nursing roles.

Health professionals have always worked long shifts, but now nurses are often being asked to clock even more hours. Generally, a nurse should work no longer than a 12-hour shift and care for about four patients. Sometimes, however, nurses report working much longer hours and caring for up to eight patients at once. Not only does that create a safety problem for hospitals, but it also increases the risk of nurse burnout and can endanger patients as well as health professionals.

Staffing concerns worsen when nurses retire or when they take vacations, as there are not enough qualified staff members to fill in for them when necessary. In addition, there are fewer trained professionals available on the U.S. labor market to qualify for the demands of a nursing position.

At the same time, nurses are often frustrated because they have little control over their work environment. They have the training and experience to handle any medical condition but are sometimes just unable to give the quality care they should because of a lack of staff.

Possible Solutions

Michigan lawmakers have introduced legislation that would limit the number of patients that each nurse can care for and regulate the nursing conditions in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. However, many hospitals are not in favor of the bill, insisting instead that they should be allowed to handle their own staffing ratios.

Some Michigan hospitals have achieved Magnet status. This means that they meet the requirements to provide better and higher quality care using more nurses—at least 75 percent with a four-year bachelor’s degree (BSN). The provision is in line with Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that the number of U.S. nurses with a BSN grow to roughly 80 percent in the next two years. This, however, puts additional strain on current staff, as many nurses may have years of experience in the field but only a two-year degree, which makes them unsuitable for a position with a Magnet health facility. Nursing education providers insist that the BSN requirement will increase nurses’ competency and skill level and overall improve the standard of patient care state-wide.

A potentially more sustainable resolution is to utilize qualified RNs, MTs, PTs and other medical professionals from overseas. Foreign-trained nurses are highly educated and typically exposed to identical curriculum as U.S.-trained professionals. Additionally, most international nurses already have a bachelor’s degree, making them a valuable resource for medical facilities that seek to provide superior levels of care. With a solid work ethic and willingness to work more difficult shifts such as nights, weekends, and holidays, these professionals are able to meet the U.S. healthcare system’s growing staffing needs by providing a safe and reliable solution to the shortage of qualified domestic RNs.

Interested in learning more about internationally-trained healthcare professionals as a possible solution to your healthcare facility’s staffing needs? Reach out to the team at PassportUSA today.

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