Workforce | FAH Policy Blog Team

New Podcast: Inside the Hospital Nursing Shortage with Lisa Dolan 

The pandemic poured gasoline on the health care workforce shortage creating a confluence of factors affecting hospital nursing. 

The average age of a nurse today is 52 years old and, according to research published in Health Affairs, more than 1 million nurses will retire and exit the workforce by 2030. Additionally, about a third of nurses and physicians are reducing their hours due to burnout, fear of exposure or anxiety resulting from COVID-19. 

Lisa Dolan, Chief Nursing Officer at Ardent Health Services joined Chip to examine how the system is using its size and scale to meet this challenge and continue to provide quality, compassionate care to all those who need it.   

Dolan started by outlining the issue facing Ardent and other hospitals nationwide. 

“We’ve seen an increase in nurses leaving the bedside for retirements, often early retirements, or to work in different settings, and then some also take travel positions. We’ve really had to increase our recruitment efforts and have worked to contract with many travelers across our hospitals as well.” 

But as she explained, travelling nurses come with their own set of challenges. 

“We have had in the hospitals the pleasure to work with many great traveling nurses, but working with them can – at times – be difficult for the existing staff. They’re new to your facility, they’re unfamiliar and need extra support from our nurses. Plus, they may not be able to care for the highly specialized or the most acutely ill patients. Also permanent staff often know that the traveling nurse is making a stronger wage. You put all this together and it can really impact the morale of the nurses that we have.” 

Dolan says Ardent understands the importance of having a stable nursing corps and is taking steps to become “the employer of choice” for frontline caregivers. This includes things like reducing non-patient care tasks, offering professional growth opportunities, and creating programs to help nurses maintain emotional well-being. 

But she says there are things policymakers can do to help increase the number of bedside nurses as well. 

“The first thing that comes to mind to me is educational assistance and support. Plus offering loan forgiveness and financial assistance that could not only help a young student, but also furthering education for a working adult, making that more attainable on a larger scale. Then on a state level, we could also think about using some incentives that encourage people to stay in their home state or communities.” 

Dolan also addressed the advantages of working as a nurse at a large learning health system, like Ardent. 

“I feel really fortunate to be part of a large organization where the teams are so committed to one another. We have learned through the COVID crisis that one of the greatest assets we had was sharing information with one another – especially our frontline nurses. At Ardent, nurse leaders are working on solutions and then sharing them with one another and learning from each other. My job as part of the corporate team is really to facilitate the discussions and make sure we’re improving patient care by packaging best practices and toolkits and getting those to caregivers. We also work to put technology in people’s hands and manage pilot programs – anything we can do to facilitate learning.”