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Why Our Approach to Nursing Must Change

Chief Nursing Officer, Kathy Sanford discusses how CommonSpirit is taking proactive steps to support nurses through their career continuum.
Chief Nursing Officer, Kathy Sanford discusses how CommonSpirit is taking proactive steps to support nurses through their career continuum.

Without the work of nurses, what would happen to our healthcare system? I certainly don’t want to find out. As a former U.S. Army nurse and now the chief nursing officer of one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems with 45,000 nurses across 21 states, I’m concerned about what the nurse staffing crisis means for a profession that is vital to the health of us all. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we predicted a nursing shortage due to the retiring nursing workforce and the care needs of our aging population. While a staffing shortage may be unavoidable in the short-term, there are actions we can take to improve the field for nurses and face this challenge head-on. 

Nurses make up the largest section of the health profession, but the field faces a staffing crisis. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that each year 175,900 new nursing positions will be available due to vacancies created by retiring nurses. But the issue begins even before retirement – new nursing grad turnover rates are as high as 30% during the first year of practice. With the added strain of the pandemic, BLS estimates that employers will need to hire 1.1 million nurses by 2026. The evidence is clear that better patient outcomes occur when registered nurses provide a higher proportion of care hours in healthy work environments. So, how can we be a part of the solution to encourage individuals to pursue the nursing profession and ensure currently registered nurses continue to thrive for the entirety of their careers? 

While May 6-12 celebrates National Nurses Week, our commitment to the profession and those who work in it must go beyond that. At our health system, we are changing our approach to nursing by taking proactive steps to support nurses through their career continuum and shape the future workforce.

We recently announced a partnership with Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science to diversify and grow the nursing workforce by increasing access to nursing educators and expanding training capabilities. This partnership will also establish mentorship programs for diverse high school students and build relationships with pre-college educators and guidance counselors to help ensure that students know their options and the prerequisite coursework necessary for a career in nursing.

Once graduated from school, we are starting a one-year residency program for new nurses to create a stronger workforce with mentors for nurse personal wellness support, so nurses get the orientation they need and the access to resources they require. We are also establishing an internal staffing agency that allocates a workforce pool to highest need areas and gives nurses more support and the flexibility to travel if they wish. To streamline workflow, we are adapting virtually integrated care to connect virtual and floor nurses through videoconferencing technology. This change will allow nurses physically in the hospital to focus on patient care while nurses working virtually can work on processes such as admissions and discharges.

This week and moving forward, let’s not forget to recognize and thank nurses for the life changing work they do. However, let’s also pledge to do more – by making changes that empower and support nurses at every step of their career.