How Georgia is tackling its nursing shortage

The nationwide nursing shortage isn’t going away any time soon. It is even expected to worsen by 2030.

Data from the Bureau of Health Workforce ranks Georgia as having the fifth-lowest nurse-to-state population ratios in the country.

In a 2017 study, the U.S. Health Resources and Services projected a long-term supply and demand problem for nurses. Then the pandemic hit and nurses started resigning at record numbers.

"It really was the year of the nurse and they’re champions and their contributions to healthcare was evident, but also, they weren’t able to take a lot of time for self-care," said Dr. Susan Dyess, Director of Kennesaw State University's Wellstar School of Nursing.

The administration at KSU is focusing on creating more opportunities.

"We are currently in a five-year expansion program where we are doubling our enrollment for nursing students. We are in year three," said Dr. Dyess.

The new 70,000-square foot Emory Nursing Learning Center is another example of the focus on education.

Kathleen Bartholomew, a health care culture expert, says hospitals still need to address compensation and burnout

"They’re task-saturated. They do over 600 tasks in a 12-hour shift. 12-hour shifts have not helped them at all, they’re exhausting to work. They have no downtime, they have no time to process the information, to even eat meals," said Bartholomew.

Bartholomew suggests switching nurse schedules to four, 10-hour workdays with eight hours for clinical work and two hours for other tasks.

"Education, follow-ups, contacting your patients, quality of patient improvement, going to shared governance meetings but no, it’s just like Lucile Ball in the chocolate factory but instead of chocolate, it’s patients, so we can’t stop the conveyer belt," said Bartholomew.

Travel nursing opportunities proved very lucrative during the pandemic but experts say it also drove away permanent full-time employees. 

"It’s only natural to be resentful when you just oriented someone to your floor knowing they’re making twice the salary," said Bartholomew. "The other thing is I live in a small, rural town where the nurses left and we have nobody left in the emergency room so the hospital now has to hire all travelers." 

"I do think it’s a conundrum and I think leaders across the nation are looking at that. What are the incentives that keep nurses at the bedside," said Dyess.  

Dyess says magnet designated hospitals, which is a recognition for facilities with excellent nursing staffs, are also appealing for staffers. 

"Having healthy practice environments, having appropriate communication with shared governance where front-line nurses feel like they’re part of decision-making processes," said Dyess. "Those are all really good attractors in the magnet world."