What are the Biggest Challenges Facing Nursing Today?

Nursing is a well-established profession. But like any field, it has its challenges. The landscape of healthcare changes continually, and nurses must adapt. It’s not always easy, but the rewards consistently outweigh the sacrifices, and every problem solved makes the profession stronger. As an LPN, you could be the change the nursing field needs.

What Are the Biggest Challenges Facing the Nursing Profession?

Nursing is enjoying unprecedented growth, and with it comes growing pains. Success is always a work in progress. But the past few years have exposed flaws in the healthcare system, bringing these critical challenges to the forefront of the nursing field:

The Increasing Complexity of Care

Patients’ healthcare needs are becoming more complex due to advancements in medical technology and a higher prevalence of chronic diseases. More than four in 10 adults have two or more serious conditions. When people are hospitalized, they’re sicker than they used to be, requiring more skill to care for.

The rapid advancement of medical technologies means that nurses must continuously update their knowledge to keep pace. And even the least tech-savvy must learn to operate and become proficient with high-tech equipment, it’s an intimidating and time-consuming process.

Today’s nurses also do more than dress wounds and administer medications. As frontline healthcare providers, they’re asked to address the many physical, emotional, cognitive, and social issues that compromise patients’ well-being and independence. It’s an empowering part of the job, but one that increases the burden on an already strained field.

Public Policymaking

Nurses play a vital role in healthcare, but while their contributions are increasingly recognized at the facility and community levels, roles at the public policymaking level are limited with predictable results.

Without nursing input, rule makers lack a comprehensive understanding of the issues affecting the field, their policies often fail to adequately address workforce challenges. As frontline caregivers, nurses have direct experience and insights into the challenges and needs of patients, families, and communities. Their absence in policymaking circles means that important perspectives and expertise are not adequately represented.

Legal and Ethical Concerns

The nursing field continues to face legal and ethical issues that are challenging to navigate.

Among the most relevant for today’s nurses are:

Scope of Practice – Each state defines the scope of practice for nurses, outlining the specific tasks and responsibilities they can undertake. Operating outside the defined scope of practice can have legal implications, but the boundaries aren’t always cut and dry.

During the pandemic, for example, nurses toiled in gray areas, taking professional risks for patients’ sake. And now that the reins have been loosened by precedent, nurse practice acts must be further refined, and the rules made clear.

Informed Consent – Nurses have a responsibility to ensure that patients understand their medical conditions, proposed treatments, potential risks, and alternatives. Obtaining informed consent from patients before providing care is crucial in all but life-threatening crises.

The concept of informed consent, however, has been severely tried in the past few years. Nurses need more legal guidance related to right-to-try, emergency, and mandatory treatments.

Malpractice – Nurses can be held legally accountable for acts of malpractice or negligence that result in harm to patients. Failure to adhere to standards of care, errors in medication administration, improper documentation or breaches of patient confidentiality can lead to legal and career-ending consequences.

As professionals, most nurses wouldn’t have it any other way. But there is growing concern that high workloads are contributing to otherwise preventable mistakes. No one wants to be set up to fail.

Cultural and Religious Competency – Nurses care for diverse populations with wide-ranging cultural and religious beliefs. Respecting their values is an ethical imperative.

Few tools are provided to nurses, however, beyond a cursory exploration of generational and cultural sensitivity issues in school. The field needs a broader decision-making framework.

Resource Allocation – Resource allocation was rarely a problem until supply chains were disrupted. And while nurses are trained in triage, few were prepared to make life-or-death decisions about access to medical equipment during the pandemic.

Ethical considerations related to the distribution of limited healthcare resources are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Nurses must navigate these dilemmas while considering their primary role as patient advocates.

Documentation – Accurate and timely documentation is a legal requirement for nurses. Proper recordkeeping helps establish a timeline of the patient’s condition, communication with the healthcare team and the care provided. Inadequate or inaccurate documentation can lead to legal disputes and significant financial penalties for both nurses and their employers.

Writing notes, however, takes time. Software makes it easier, but the extensive recordkeeping required of nurses who would rather be providing direct care remains an ever-present issue.

The Nursing Shortage

It’s no secret that America has too few nurses. It’s a multi-factorial issue with several contributing factors, such as:

An Aging Population – As people live longer, they require more healthcare services. This increased demand places a strain on the workforce.

Retiring Workforce – Many experienced nurses are reaching retirement age, the average age for an RN is 52 years old, which may signal a large wave over the next 15 years. As these nurses retire, the number of available nurses decreases, exacerbating the shortage while providing fewer mentors for the next generation of caregivers.

This so-called “brain drain” means a depletion of specialized knowledge and expertise that affects both the healthcare and the nurse education system.

Fewer New Nurses – The capacity of nursing schools to train new nurses hasn’t kept pace with demand. Factors such as faculty shortages, limited clinical placement opportunities and lack of funding for nursing education programs have resulted in lackluster numbers of new nurses entering the workforce to replace those who retire or leave the profession. Wait lists for RN programs are an issue nationwide, forcing programs to become so selective that many qualified candidates are left behind. Fortunately, this is not the case with LPN programs. Yet another reason to become a licensed practical nurse.

Burnout – Employers are responding by offering flexible schedules, more paid time off and self-care support. And the federal and state governments are doing their best to alleviate shortages by addressing the root causes. Measures include:

  • Funding and Investment – Allocating more resources to the funding and support of nursing education programs will help expand educational capacity. On the student side, help is on the way in the form of more scholarships, grants and tax incentives that defray the cost of tuition and books. On the academic side, efforts are being made to keep educators on the job.
  • Regulatory Changes – Officials are acting swiftly to enact suggestions made by nurses to draw more students into the profession and improve retention rates. Setting minimum staffing requirements and developing policies that support nursing practice and professional autonomy is expected to improve workplace conditions.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships – Healthcare organizations are partnering with the government and educational institutions to better understand the nursing shortage through data gathering and research. Further analysis should expose how key players can work together to address workforce gaps. Many hospitals and clinics are also expanding access for students to clinical sites, removing what has been a significant barrier to training more nurses.
  • Workforce Planning and Development – The US Department of Labor (DOL) is continually assessing nursing workforce needs. They’re working hard to develop strategies to address shortages, establishing committees and task forces to study the issue, set goals and develop action plans designed to train and recruit more nurses.

They’re also taking a hard look at workforce distribution. Nursing shortages are more pronounced in certain geographical areas, especially rural communities where it’s challenging to attract and retain healthcare professionals.

Economic and lifestyle factors are the biggest issues. Fewer nurses want to live where housing costs are high and amenities, including further education opportunities, are low.

Technology, such as telehealth, is easing the burden for patients but not nurses. The government is trying to help with initiatives, such as financial incentives, loan forgiveness programs and housing assistance for those willing to work in underserved communities.

The Future of Nursing

Despite ongoing challenges, nursing remains a rewarding field. The list of problems may seem long, but it’s only because it lacks comparison. The solution to most of these issues is for people who are passionate about wellness to dive into the profession and bring their ideas to the table.

If you’re on the fence, consider becoming an LPN. Unlike RN programs, training for practical nurses is accessible. There are fewer wait lists, and the academic requirements are less restrictive. Programs take less than a year to complete and you’ll graduate with a secure job and a good foundation for further education. If you love it, make it your forever-job. If you need more, having a professional nursing license improves your chances of getting into a degree program.

Someday, we will all benefit from having a vibrant healthcare system with as many nurses as communities need to stay healthy. LPNs play a critical role in that mission, and it all starts one graduate at a time.

Practical Nursing Program

Are you looking for Practical Nursing training classes in Central Florida that prepares you to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN)? Gwinnett Institute in Orlando offers a Practical Nursing diploma program that trains LPN students for positions delivering basic bedside care to patients. The Practical Nursing diploma program provides the didactic and skills training needed to take the NCLEX-PN examination.* 

*While Gwinnett Institute provides test preparation and review assistance to college students, it cannot guarantee any college student will be able to take or pass any type of licensure exam. College students must be mindful throughout their entire training program that licensure is a prerequisite for employment as a nurse and to diligently prepare themselves to meet this important requirement.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming an LPN in Orlando at Gwinnett Institute.