Nursing Shortage Solutions: 7 Work Culture Tips

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 that 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?

Here’s a look at 7 nursing shortage solutions which can improve work culture and bring nurses back to the table.

1. 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. To get to the truth about nursing shortage problems means taking a hard look at past practices. Try to find ways that nurse professionals might feel like they’re be treated as a second-class workforce.

Also, and this is important, take time to acknowledge the fact that nursing staff may likely still be traumatized from working during an active pandemic. While nurse staffing has been a challenge for many years, the timing of this nursing shortage post COVID is an important point to appreciate.

2. Language Matters

One of the simplest ways to start profiling your culture is by observing how leadership talks about nurses and the nursing staff. Ask the tough questions, such as:

  • 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?

“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

3. Listening Isn’t Optional

Great nursing leaders are strong communicators—and they’re adept at knowing when to listen. One big step in finding the right nursing shortage solutions is formalizing the need to listen 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.

One simple way to humanize your nursing staff—and to formalize nurse feedback as a core value—is to make sure that they’re represented in leadership, on boards, and in decision-making processes. 

4. Long-Term Relationships are the Answer

Placing an emphasis on 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. 

Building long-term relationships with nursing staff is one of the best ways to develop nursing shortage solutions that will endure. It takes time and creative efforts but it can pay dividends in the long run.

5. Lean on Existing Wisdom

While your path to change might involve some disruption, be aware that you aren’t reinventing the wheel. For example, The Humanizing Nursing Communication Theory which focuses on developing interpersonal relationships among nurses, has been in practice since 2003 and can still serve as a guide today. 

It may not be that difficult to readjust your approach to your nursing staff as you are likely already applying many of the principles you’ll need in areas of care that you provide to patients. The process of humanizing dementia care, for example, involves acknowledging transformation as a human rights issue, addressing language, and reframing context as multi-dimensional. 

6. 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. Embracing this key structural change is a transformation that will build nursing shortage solutions for the long-term.

7. Show Appreciation

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 may be missing out on worlds of untapped potential that could result from prioritizing the effort to humanize their workforce.

Do You Need Nursing Shortage Solutions That Will Last?

As you work through the challenges of filling shifts and taking care of your patients, know that there are solutions available to you. Finding ways to improve work culture is one way to bring in nurses, but another is building a staffing strategy that works for everyone involved. Partner with us to see how our cost-effective staffing solutions can help your facility today.


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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