WHO: For top-quality patient care, we must invest in nurses

In 2020, the World Health Organization projected that a serious global nursing shortage of 4.6 million nurses will ravage healthcare, if left unchecked. Turnover was already an issue—mostly due to the aging patient populations and workforce—but COVID-19 undoubtedly exacerbated it. During the pandemic, hospitals were filled to maximum capacity, hired HCPs worked grueling hours and facilities contended with supply and labor shortages. Unsurprisingly, countless nurses dealt with burnout, fatigue and planned to retire earlier than expected.

Registered nurses make up 30% of American healthcare staffing. They are the backbone of the healthcare system and they are irreplaceable in making the world a better, healthier place. A long and sustained nursing shortage would kneecap both the industry and public safety at large. If we expect them to provide care under historic circumstances, then governments have to start investing in nurses and nurse staffing.

What does this investment entail, exactly? Luckily, this WHO report provides a list of key suggestions. One of the biggest priorities on this list is investing in nurse education and job creation. By developing aspiring nursing students and providing enticing nursing job opportunities, hiring HCPs to fill shortages will be far easier. The WHO also stresses the importance of analytics. With more resources, nurse organizations can better collect, analyze and interpret data from the healthcare world. Using this information, companies can have a clearer picture of the current state of healthcare and how to improve nursing outcomes.

Legislation that promotes safe and productive work environments will also be important for investing in nurses. Safe healthcare staffing, adequate salaries and gender-based workplace policies are just a few pertinent examples. In particular, legal maximum patient-to-nurse staffing ratios have historically been effective in improving patient outcomes and increasing mutual satisfaction between patients and staff. Policies that address gender discrimination will also be crucial in protecting and retaining talent, especially considering that 90% of nurses are women.

In the bigger picture, investment also entails enacting policies related to the globalization of healthcare staffing. Responsibly and ethically monitoring nurse migration, for instance, will make sure international HCPs get hired safely and securely. International harmonization of education and training standards also allows governing bodies to accept nursing credentials across different countries. Implementing these laws will not be easy, but it would give nurses more freedom, mobility and incentives to stay.

Nurses of all kinds play an invaluable role of containing epidemics and maintaining our collective health. Failing to retain and develop the nursing workforce would put the safety of mankind at risk and that is in no way hyperbolic. For the future of healthcare staffing, governments and facilities alike have no choice but to pour resources into nurse education, creating nursing jobs and promoting positive work environments. In doing so, they will ensure a sustainable, satisfactory and productive healthcare system.