National nursing shortage affecting emergency nurses
By Archita Datta Majumdar

Share this article:  

One of the biggest challenges faced by the American healthcare industry is the acute shortage of nurses. This has adversely affected healthcare not just in regular hospital departments, but also in emergency rooms, which depend on immediate and proper care. While the population has increased at a steady rate, the growth of trained nurses has not. Most states are already reeling from the national nursing shortage. One of the first departments to be affected by the shortage of resources is the ER as hospitals are forced to turn away patients when they cannot handle any additional pressure.


Do you think emergency nurses are overworked and overstressed?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

There are many reasons that have led to this crisis. Increase in patient footfalls have not been met by an increase in nursing staff. This crowding and shortage have combined to put undue pressure on the existing staff, many of whom simply quit when they cannot take the stress anymore. About 1 in 5 nurses quit every year. By 2025, the national nursing shortage could reach 500,000.

A lack of federal funding for emergency care and the absence of standardization for emergency services have further compounded the issue. Reports released by the Institute of Medicine point to these harrowing facts. They show how the overburdened and undercompensated workforce has led to growing risks for national health, where timely care and handling of disasters and emergency situations may soon be rare.

The law dictates that hospitals provide care for all patients who walk into the ER, even those who do not have medical insurance. They expect to be compensated and reimbursed through government funding. The lack of funding directly affects their resources, human or otherwise. They cannot pay existing staff and are prevented from hiring further employees.

To understand how this can affect overall healthcare, one needs to understand the true role of emergency nursing. Emergency nurses work in high-pressure environments where they need to quickly recognize trauma or injury and provide immediate care to stem the situation. Their response time determines the flow of the life-and-death nature of the cases, which means they have to be constantly alert and agile.

Emergency nurses need to be knowledgeable about all illnesses and injuries to provide on-spot solutions before the physician reaches the patient. They need to quickly uncover medical conditions and also interface with patients while stabilizing them, minimizing their pain and trauma and also explain their condition in detail. It is an extremely fast-paced and multifaceted job that needs absolute strength of mind to face the extreme challenges constantly.

There is structure in this chaos, but that can only be maintained when there is a healthy nurse-patient ratio. It is humanly impossible for a single person to withstand more than their standard load beyond a certain point. Emergency nurses pay a pivotal role in providing timely care for patients — whether individual or mass-casualty incidents — so imagine a world where this care is absent. To maintain and improve the quality of U.S. emergency care, the government needs to respond to this national crisis yesterday.

The average age of nurses is now 45, which means there is dire need for younger blood in the workforce. There are two ways the government can help stem the nursing shortage crisis. One way is to increase federal funding for hospitals so they can hire more trained nurses. The compensation package also needs further review, especially for emergency nurses. While they earn more than regular nurses, their salaries are not close to being adequate for the pressure they face every day.

The other way is to increase the state and federal grants for nursing schools to encourage nursing careers and have more people graduate every year. Specialized ER training also needs to be beefed up to help them face the tremendous challenges and pressures of the emergency departments. An estimated 25 percent increase in nursing graduates can help stem this crisis to a certain extent. Through increases in nursing faculty and schools there can be sufficient expansion of the nursing education and profession, so there is a healthy rise of nurses equipped with emergency preparedness and keep pace with the stress and demand.

Archita Datta Majumdar has been writing for various industries for more than 14 years. She has contributed articles to The Economic Times, the leading financial daily of India, and she loves research, business analysis and knowledge management, which paves the way for a steep learning curve.