The need to invest in rebuilding the global nursing workforce and nursing leadership has never been greater. COVID-19, a growing nursing shortage globally, a lack of nurses prepared at the graduate level to teach nursing, and more nurses retiring has left healthcare systems severely strained and at a breaking point. These factors, combined with increased employer demand for BSN-prepared nurses, require a concerted effort to rebuild the nursing workforce and prioritize retaining nurses who enter the profession.
Challenges Facing the Nursing Workforce and Nursing Leadership
According to the World Health Organization (WHO): “Nurses account for more than half of all the world’s health workers.” However, 80% of these nurses work in countries with less than half the world’s total population. This has left many countries in Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa and Latin America in dire need of nurses. As of early 2020, the WHO estimated the nursing shortage to be 5.9 million globally.
While the obvious solution is to educate more nurses, several factors prevent this from happening. Due to the proliferation of the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing programs began reducing their enrollment numbers due to restrictions on clinical placements. Prospective students were unable to tour nursing schools to determine if the field would provide a good career fit.
However, educating more nurses was difficult even before the pandemic. A lack of nurses prepared at the master’s and doctoral levels has resulted in a shortage of nurses with the academic preparation required to teach nursing. Compounding the problem is the number of aging and retiring nursing faculty as well. A study by Fang & Kesten estimated the total number of nursing faculty retirements in 2016-2025 “would equal one-third of faculty in 2015.”
Given these current and projected nursing shortfalls and workforce inequities, the need is urgent for government and healthcare stakeholders to invest in building the global nursing workforce.
Changes Required to Rebuild the Nursing Workforce
Addressing the nursing shortage and rebuilding the nursing workforce require many significant changes and investments by nursing and healthcare stakeholders and leaders. The WHO and its partners suggest the following changes:
- Educate and employ more nurses by increasing funding.
- Monitor and manage nurse mobility responsibly and ethically.
- Enable and ensure primary healthcare nurses work to the full scope of their practice, particularly in the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases.
- Empower nurses with the skills to drive change in primary healthcare by educating them with the sociological, scientific and technological skills they need.
- Establish more government nursing leadership positions.
- Support younger and newer nurses in developing their leadership skills.
- Work toward standardizing nursing education and nursing practice standards globally.
- Develop global systems for recognizing and processing nursing credentials.
- Collaborate with various stakeholders such as education, finance, health, immigration, labor, and nursing about workforce planning and ways to strengthen the role of nurses in healthcare teams.
- Seek to improve working conditions for nurses related to occupational health and safety concerns, fair salaries and safe staffing practices.
- Establish gender-sensitive workplace policies and practices.
- Develop better capacity to track, evaluate and respond to changes in the healthcare workplace.
The global nursing shortage continues to worsen as resources are stretched thin due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This health crisis, combined with a lack of nursing faculty prepared at the graduate level to teach nursing, more nursing faculty retiring, and a paucity of nurses in senior leadership roles, all contribute to the shortage. By implementing the global and widespread changes recommended by WHO and its partners, healthcare leaders can avoid a greater crisis of even fewer nurses in the future.