The nursing profession has been grappling with a concerning issue in recent years – “accelerated burnout” among new nurses. A panel discussion hosted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) shed light on this problem and revealed some alarming statistics. Approximately 100,000 registered nurses (RNs) left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic, and an additional 800,000 anticipate leaving in the next 5 years. This exodus primarily affected younger nurses with less than 10 years of experience, raising concerns about the preparedness and support offered to new nurses entering the workforce.
One of the leading reasons cited for the stress experienced by younger nurses is an overarching sense of feeling ill-prepared to step into the demanding world of nursing. The Louisiana State Board of Nursing conducted a survey among newly licensed nurses, revealing that a significant number of nurses who entered practice in the last 2 years were already experiencing burnout. This trend, termed “accelerated burnout,” is fueled by a combination of factors such as the scarcity of nursing professionals, shortage of nursing faculty, and disruptions in clinical education due to the pandemic.
Simulation models were introduced as an alternative method of education during the pandemic. While these models offer a valuable learning experience, they cannot fully replace the reality of treating real patients in real clinical situations. Karen Lyon, CEO of the Louisiana State Board of Nursing, highlighted the importance of providing opportunities for new nurses to gain hands-on experience with genuine patients. The shortage of nurses and faculty, combined with unconventional education methods, contributed to the feelings of discouragement and readiness to leave the profession among younger nurses.
In order to address the prevailing burnout issue, nursing leaders emphasized the need for every institution in the country to implement a transition to practice program for new nurses. These formal programs would assess the skill levels of new nurses, identify gaps in their knowledge, and provide crucial mentoring and support during their first year of practice. While not all hospitals currently have such programs, it is essential for all institutions, including small and rural hospitals, to prioritize the implementation of these programs to better support new nurses and reduce burnout rates.
Another strategy suggested to support newly licensed nurses is the utilization of virtual nurses. Experienced remote nurses can be employed to assist in onboarding new nurses, managing discharges, and admissions. This resource allows new nurses to have access to senior nurses who can provide guidance and support, without the fear of taking away vital time from patient care. The integration of virtual nurses has helped organizations like the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to stabilize nurse turnover and create a supportive environment for new nurses to thrive.
The discussion of nurse staffing ratios emerged as a potential solution to address burnout and workforce challenges. While the panelists supported the idea of nurse staffing ratios, there was a consensus that nurses should be the ones determining these ratios, rather than legislators or external entities. The unique patient population and varying skill levels of nurses necessitate flexibility in determining staffing ratios. The American Nurses Association has expressed support for federal staffing ratios, putting the decision-making power regarding ratios in the hands of nursing professionals.
In addition to focusing on strategies to support new nurses, it is crucial to recognize the impact of the existing workforce’s health and well-being on the overall success of nursing as a profession. Eileen Fry-Bowers, Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Nursing and Health Professions, emphasized the need to prioritize the mental and physical health of colleagues and preceptors who serve as mentors to new nurses. A healthy and resilient existing workforce can effectively support and guide new nurses throughout their professional journey.
The issue of accelerated burnout among new nurses is a pressing concern for the nursing profession. As demonstrated in the panel discussion hosted by the NCSBN, strategies such as implementing transition to practice programs, leveraging virtual nurses, and providing autonomy in determining nurse staffing ratios can play a significant role in addressing this issue. However, it is essential to recognize that supporting new nurses goes beyond these strategies – it requires a collective effort from the entire healthcare community to create a nurturing and resilient environment where new nurses can thrive and contribute to the delivery of quality patient care.