The Myth of a Nursing Shortage and The Reality of the Nurse Experience

The Myth of a Nursing Shortage and The Reality of the Nurse Experience

The nursing shortage is a myth. David Coppins, CEO and Rebecca Love, MSN, RN, FIEL, CCO at IntelyCare—both pioneers in nurse workforce innovation—recently hosted a fascinating event that examined why the “shortage” in nursing might be more about the treatment of nurse professionals than a true labor shortage. 

Nurses are retiring in droves, but there are thousands of new nurses graduating every year. The problem is, they aren’t staying—among recent graduates, just two years after beginning bedside work, only 30% are still practicing. In post-acute, one likely cause is that nursing professionals are being treated like resources instead people—which begs the question: What would the future look like if nurses were treated as people instead of resources?

“As long as we’re seen as just a cost center, you’re going to de-invest in us.”

Rebecca Love, MSN, RN, FIEL, Chief Clinical Officer

It Starts With Self-Reflection

Nurse leaders are up against insurmountable odds but there are still options; and all of them, from technology to leadership development, start with stepping back from the status quo and envisioning a brighter future. 

“The workload, the fact that nurses don’t really have a voice, and the model itself makes it hard to have a life outside of working—those all come together to create this crisis.”

David Coppins, CEO 

Culture issues like these require extensive change. Successful providers will create a culture that humanizes nursing staff—looking for ways their nurse professionals might be treated as a second-class workforce and acknowledging that their staff is likely traumatized from working during an active pandemic. 

Language Matters

One of the simplest ways to start profiling your culture is by observing how leadership talks about nurses and the nursing staff. 

Are nursing staff discussed as merely an “expense” or “staff”, or are they acknowledged as people with children, families, and lives outside your facility? Are they just “labor” or are they people with career goals? Do your metrics lean only on quantitative matters or do you qualitatively describe your nurse experience? 

Listening Isn’t an Option

Great nursing leaders are strong communicators—and they’re adept at knowing when to listen. 

This means formalizing listening to your nursing staff and community as a core value. Your leadership will have to set aside time to have conversations and possibly prepare to deal with difficult emotions like frustration, sadness, and even anger. Additionally, the simplest way to humanize your nursing staff is to make sure they’re represented in leadership, on boards, and in decision-making processes. 

Long-Term Relationships are the Answer

Nurse retention is a noble goal, but there are benefits beyond just increasing census and complying with minimum staffing levels. 

Keeping your nurse professionals longer means that you’re building the long-term relationships that are crucial to understanding what a humanized nurse experience looks like. On a practical level, this will mean creating an employment experience that gives them breaks, possibly by leveraging contingent nurses. But know that there is a misperception of the cost of contingent nurses that often keeps many post-acute leaders from realizing the potential of creating a more humanized nurse experience. 

Lean on Existing Wisdom

While your path to change might involve some disruption, be aware that you aren’t reinventing the wheel. The Humanizing Nursing Communication Theory, for example, has been in practice since 2003 and even today can serve as a guide. 

At the same time, you are likely already applying many of the principles you’ll need in areas of patient care. Humanizing dementia care, for example, involves a process of acknowledging transformation as a human rights issue, addressing language, and reframing context as multi-dimensional. 

Let “Lifestyle” be Your Guide

Consider your staff’s long-term professional goals and desires to work at the top of their license as part of their career growth. Also, aspects of social determinants of health specific to your nursing professionals are foundational to how they experience their work. 

Simple steps such as efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID at work, something SNFs have made significant progress in, will have an immeasurably positive impact on their lives outside of work. But you’ll likely see the most significant results in humanizing your workforce by giving your full-time staff schedules that tap into “extreme flexibility”—going beyond shorter shifts and creating work schedules that fit their lives instead of the other way around. 

What Nurses Want

In a second live event, David and Rebecca sat down with nurses working bedside. The one item that was repeated by all of the nursing professionals was the desire to be appreciated.

We strongly believe that most post-acute leaders are missing out on worlds of untapped potential in humanizing their workforce. This is because, thanks to advances in technology, instead of only leveraging just a fraction of the nursing workforce, nurse leaders can tap into 100% of available talent through the optimized use of contingent labor. But this doesn’t happen with paper and pen or even spreadsheets. It requires technology built for this exact purpose. You can take your first steps toward implementing extreme flexibility at your facility by spending a few minutes with this exciting and moving discussion between our CEO and Chief Clinical Officer


Megan is a business writer with over 15 years of experience in healthcare enterprise technology. She holds an MBA and B.S. in Healthcare Administration. She now keeps an ongoing eye on the latest developments and successes in healthcare admin technology and the people who use it to build a better world for providers, patients, and their care communities.


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