Answering the Call of Nurses Month: Arming Nursing Schools to Fill the Practice Gap
By Julie Stegman
Julie Stegman is vice president of the nursing segment of health learning, research, and practice business at Wolters Kluwer.
The theme of Nurses Month this year is “Nurses Make a Difference.” But they can only continue to do so if they are supported in their roles, and that starts with education.
The ongoing nursing shortage has devastated hospitals across the nation, affecting patient care and driving high rates of burnout among those still practicing. And as the population continues to grow and age, demand for healthcare services will only increase. Reports project that 1.2 million new registered nurses (RNs) will be needed by 2030. To address today’s nursing crisis and empower nurses to continue making a difference, we need a collaborative approach that brings practice and academia together to improve new nurses’ confidence and competence, overall nurse retention, and to produce more nurses ready for the field, eager and product to care for patients.
While practice adjustments such as more flexible work schedules, cross training, and alternative care models can help address the current shortage by better supporting and thereby retaining nurses in the field, academia also has a significant role to play. Training new nurses efficiently and effectively is essential to meet the demands of practice today and for years to come. Yet a survey by the Association of Colleges of Nursing found over 80,000 qualified BSN applicants have been turned away from nursing school due to budgetary constraints and a lack of faculty, clinical sites, and classroom space.
During the pandemic, these challenges were exacerbated as hospitals and academic medical centers closed their doors for educational purposes because they did not want students using the limited personal protective equipment they had on hand, or to be exposed to COVID-19. Sites that had previously closed their doors to students are now becoming more available, but the underlying challenge of a lack of clinical sites continues to limit nursing school applicants.
While the adoption of simulation and other virtual technologies was already underway in nurse education before COVID-19 hit, the pandemic accelerated rapid adoption of virtual simulation, virtually overnight, to help fulfill the necessary clinical time requirements for graduation. This shift was a necessary one, as virtual simulation has proven its value as an essential resource for nursing schools to bridge the gap between classroom and clinical practice, including the use of high-fidelity manikin-based simulation, to ensure professional competency for nurses about to enter the field. It also provides an essential training resource for nurses to learn how to personalize and individualize care based on patient needs and clinical cues.
Simulation programs have offered a vital stand-in for real-world clinical sites that have been unable to take on nursing students during the pandemic. By mirroring real clinical practice, virtual simulation teaches nursing students to recognize and analyze cues such as pain, paleness, urticaria — effectively to take action and respond to unfolding visual and audio responses from the patient to improve clinical reasoning skills in a safe virtual environment. Simulated nursing education programs also offer end-to-end practice instruction, including reflective practice and debriefing after the simulated interaction is complete.
While this technology has been in use for nearly a decade, the last two years have accelerated adoption of virtual tools in and out of classrooms. Simulation can offer a sustained impact on nursing by addressing the shortage of clinical sites that has been a limiting factor to nursing school admission.
While our frontline nurses are continuing to provide care throughout this pandemic, healthcare systems are embracing the opportunity to innovate and modernize their practices to better support their nurses. At the same time, academia continues to innovate to ensure the ripple effects of the pandemic don’t impact the critical nursing education system. Effecting change at the education level is crucial and will positively affect the nursing profession as a whole, creating more practice-ready nurses who are equipped to manage the demands of real-world practice. Staring Nurses Month in the face, we need to enact immediate change at both the practice and academic level to create a more resilient nursing workforce and continue delivering the best care possible to patients.