- Nurses have once again been voted as the most trusted healthcare professionals.
- Despite this honor, the nursing profession is struggling with many problems, including unsafe staffing, workplace violence, and severe burnout.
- To tackle the nursing crisis head-on, nurses must commit themselves to leadership, advocacy, and innovation roles.
According to a recent Gallup poll, nurses are the most trusted healthcare professionals for the 22nd year running.
Yet, despite their unwavering status as respected pillars of the healthcare system, nurses continue to face a litany of problems. These problems are so severe that nurses are leaving the bedside in droves — or leaving the profession altogether.
The nursing profession is in crisis, which begs the question: Will 2024 be a year of change or more of the same?
What Poll Respondents Said About the Nursing Profession
The results of the most recent Gallup poll, conducted in November 2023, spoke volumes about the public’s opinion of nurses and other healthcare professionals. An impressive 82% of respondents said the care provided by nurses was “excellent” or “good.” Physicians ranked a distant second place at 69%.
The poll also assessed the public’s thoughts on the care provided within certain healthcare locations. Hospitals ranked highest, with 58% of respondents stating they believed the care provided was “excellent” or “good.” The lowest ranked — nursing homes at 25%. This is unsurprising given the ongoing challenges in that setting, as evidenced by a separate Gallup poll showing that most Americans are wary about being admitted to a nursing home because of concerns over quality of care.
Nurses’ being consistently in the top ranking reflects their position as the most ethical and honest profession. Another Gallup poll conducted in 2022 reported that 79% of Americans believed nurses have “very high” or “high” ethical standards. Physicians ranked second again, this time at 62%.
These results are particularly impressive when considering the myriad of obstacles nurses face daily, including record levels of burnout, staffing and turnover issues, nursing strikes, and workplace violence.
It’s clear the majority of the public believes that nurses are ethical and honest professionals. So why are nursing voices not being heard? Why is meaningful change continuing to elude the most trusted profession in the country?
Undoubtedly, the challenges vexing the nursing profession are multifaceted and not easily fixable. However, no one understands the crippling issues in healthcare like nurses do, and it will take many nurses dedicating themselves to leadership, advocacy, and innovation to help improve the healthcare landscape and the nursing profession as a whole.
So, how can nurses lead the charge for improvement in 2024? Here are a few ideas to consider.
Where Nurses Can Take the Lead in 2024
Healthcare Leadership Roles
Issues within the nursing profession go beyond the bedside. Nursing leaders are feeling mounting pressure to address the laundry list of challenges their staff are facing every day, including workplace violence, bullying, unsafe nurse-to-patient staff ratios, and burnout. This pressure is causing some nurse leaders to walk away from their roles completely. In fact, a 2021 survey revealed that 20% of nursing leaders plan to leave the profession.
Although pursuing a nursing leadership role is not for everyone, it is vital that nurses attempt to embrace these roles and use them as tools for change. Sometimes, nurses choose complacency or inaction, because it is easier and for fear of “rocking the boat.” Obviously, this is not the path to meaningful transformation for the nursing profession.
Being an exemplary nursing leader in today’s healthcare system means dedicating oneself to advocacy, support, and innovation. First and foremost, nurse leaders have an obligation to advocate for their staff and patients. This involves showing a genuine concern for the issues their nurses are facing and doing everything they can to address those issues.
Comprehensive new graduate nurse orientations are also a key component to combating nurse burnout and turnover. Research has confirmed that positive onboarding experiences lead to decreased nurse turnover rates for healthcare organizations. Considering almost 1 in 5 newly licensed nurses leave the profession within the first year, the importance of mitigating this statistic cannot be overstated.
Finally, healthcare leaders can support their nurses further through the introduction of innovative care models. The nursing shortage has made the primary nursing model obsolete in many hospitals. Nursing leaders must actively support the implementation of innovative staffing models, ideally ones that operate with a strong team-based approach and safer nurse-to-patient ratios.
Political and Legislative Roles
The truth is that many of the issues in the nursing profession will not see meaningful change without legislative assistance. Perhaps one of the most direct ways for nurses to become change agents is by running for public office. Whether it is on a state or federal level, pursuing a career in politics can give nurses the rare opportunity to introduce and support legislation directly benefiting the nursing profession. Currently, there are three nurses serving in Congress: Lauren Underwood, Cori Bush, and Jen Kiggans. That is simply not enough.
If running for public office isn’t a viable option, nurses can still greatly influence political decision-making through lobbying. Nurse lobbyists work directly with local, state, and/or federal governments to advocate on behalf of other nurses for crucial healthcare policy changes. While nurses can lobby individually, most choose to do so through the assistance of a professional organization.
Advocacy and Entrepreneurial Roles
Advocacy is one of the pillars of the nursing profession — and for good reason. Nurses have an ethical responsibility to advocate for the best interests of their patients. But what about advocating for themselves?
One of the most powerful ways nurses can change the future of nursing is by tackling matters head-on through advocacy. Nursing unions are powerful advocacy allies since they are responsible for authorizing strikes, which usually result in better conditions for both nurses and patients. Nurses can advocate in other ways too, including serving on boards or councils and joining professional organizations.
Entrepreneurship is another great way nurses can lead the pursuit of change. Nurse entrepreneurs can develop instruments and technologies to make nurses’ jobs easier, improve patient outcomes, and more. Other entrepreneurs choose to focus on helping nurses outside of the workplace, such as starting businesses to provide better mental health support. The key to embracing an advocacy or entrepreneurial role is a genuine desire to improve the lives of nurses and a commitment to change and innovation.
Informatics and Technology Roles
With the rise of artificial intelligence and the healthcare technology market, nurses are key players in ensuring new clinical technologies are user-friendly and situationally relevant. If implemented appropriately, technology has the power to alleviate some of the workflow burden on nurses and improve overall productivity. Because new technology influences the way nurses do their jobs on a daily basis, it is imperative that nurses have a voice in technology-related decisions.
Nurses can also serve in a consulting capacity for health tech companies and start-ups. Many of these companies are run by non-nurses, so they often value the feedback they can receive from nurse consultants. The more nurses are involved in the evaluation process, the more likely new technologies will be nurse-friendly and clinically appropriate.
The nursing profession is suffering, bogged down by expectations of martyrdom and doing more with less support. If we wish to create real, meaningful change, apathy is no longer an option. Nurses must step up and persistently advocate for their needs and the needs of the overall profession. Only then can transformational change occur.