Creating a Thriving, Flourishing Nursing Workforce
In June, Johnson & Johnson was a proud presenting sponsor at Aspen Ideas: Health, an annual health and medicine conference bringing together visionaries, activists, clinicians, entrepreneurs, researchers, policymakers, innovators and executives for thought-provoking discussion around some of the most important topics – and biggest challenges – facing the healthcare industry today.
Sessions were wide-ranging, featuring inspiring and provocative discussions on COVID-19 disruption, the possibility of healthier futures, overcoming racial inequities, the power of artificial intelligence, a changing healthcare workforce, evolving models of care, and more. As nurses are often underrepresented at non-nursing health conferences, Johnson & Johnson was honored to sponsor a key panel discussion on the nursing workforce and the resulting healthcare crisis, and to help elevate nurse voices, leadership and innovative thinking to a broader healthcare audience.
“Healthcare in Critical Condition: Who Cares When Nurses Leave,” laid bare the current situation of the nursing profession crisis, which affects healthcare for all of us. Across the country, the reports are ominous, with rising levels of burnout, 32% of nurses considering leaving the profession, and hospital RN vacancy rates at 17% and accelerating. It is projected by 2030, we will lose two million years of nursing expertise each year in the U.S. In addition, a lack of nursing educators means 80,000 qualified prospective students are being turned away each year.
Without skilled, experienced nurses, reliably safe and quality healthcare is at risk. Action is non-negotiable.
The panel, moderated by nurse economist and host of the SEE YOU NOW podcast Shawna Butler, featured Karen M. Dale, market president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for AmeriHealth Caritas’ Medicaid managed care organization in Washington, D.C., Christopher Friese, professor and director of the Center for Improving Patient and Population Health at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, and Christopher Barsotti, an emergency physician serving rural New England and upstate New York and director of AFFIRM at The Aspen Institute.
In setting up the current workforce situation, Chris Friese underscored the importance of the profession by saying that “Nurses are the sentinel system in hospitals to save your loved ones’ lives.” Without nursing, patient health and safety are on the line.
“This is not a time to be sitting on the sidelines,” Butler said. “We want to attract and have nurses flourish and thrive in the workforce.”
While the issues facing the nursing workforce are foundational and long-standing, there are steps health systems can take to improve the workplace environment. This includes creating more career path opportunities for nurses, increasing professional development, and creating more flexible models of care. In addition, investments in nursing education must be made to increase the number and diversity of people interested in coming into the nursing profession.
“We need to reimagine the workplace,” Dale said, “so nurses can see the opportunity.”
Health system leaders need to listen to frontline workers and spend time with them in their work environment, Barsotti said, so they can hear directly from what nurses and other healthcare workers and see what they really need.
“We’ve under invested in our healthcare systems to create safe and supportive work environments for nurses,” Friese said. “We’ve been running lean on employees in U.S. healthcare systems for about 10-15 years now.”
Despite these challenges, there are solutions. The panel encouraged health system and hospital leadership to think creatively when it comes to staffing, and to plan beyond the bare minimum, which causes immediate disruption and a compounding effect when a nurse leaves.
There is also an urgent need for leaders to stand up for nurses who experience violence, abuse, or discrimination in the workplace. A lack of support pushes nurses to leave the industry entirely, Friese said. “The ball is really in [employers’] court – look really carefully at ameliorating those immediate concerns and stop the tide of losses.”
Last, leaders must acknowledge that nurses, especially younger nurses, want to know their opportunities for growth.
“No human being wants to feel locked into something that doesn’t have additional potential for them to pursue their passion,” Dale said. “In reimagining the workplace, we’ve got to have conversations about that on the upfront.”
In addition to the panel on the nursing workforce, we were thrilled to hear from and connect with other nurses speaking at and attending the conference. One of the other nurse presenters at Aspen included Sandra Lindsay, director of patient care services at Northwell Health, and the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Lindsay leaned on her more than 26 years as a critical care nurse on a panel called “Why Work in Healthcare.” This conversation also addressed the factors driving nurses and other healthcare workers from the field – burnout, mental health challenges, student debt and more.
Creating a sustainable workforce requires investment, in support systems, organizational structures, and beyond – as Sandra noted during the panel, “An investment in nursing is an investment in humanity.”
Another nurse attendee, and active voice during panel Q&As, was nurse Kwamane Liddell, JD, MHA, BSN, Aspen Fellow and JLABS innovator. Liddell’s experience as an emergency room nurse led him to create Nutrible, a diagnosis-based technology platform that sends food to post-discharge hospital patients. This groundbreaking approach works to fight food deserts and health disparities through the use of culturally competent medical nutritional therapy and healthy food deliveries through a doctor referral. Nurse Erin Athey, founder of Community Concierge Care was also sponsored by Johnson & Johnson to attend as an Aspen Fellow. She spoke at the “Point of Care” night sharing her impactful story of what inspired her to think of new ways to serve patients with low access to healthcare, and how she founded her place-based care model led by nurses and delivered to residents of public and affordable housing.
“It was inspiring to meet so many passionate, innovative nurses at the conference, and it’s clear that more nurse voices and leadership are needed,” said Lynda Benton, Senior Director, Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson. “As the largest healthcare provider group in the US, nurses must be visible leaders helping to drive any healthcare conversation – not just conversations about nursing specifically.”
Want to make your voice heard? Consider attending or applying to speak at a non-nurse conference this year. To hear more from the nurses at Aspen Ideas: Health, click below to view the sessions.
Watch the Sessions:
Johnson & Johnson Presents: Healthcare in Critical Condition: Who Cares When Nurses Leave?
American Hospital Association Presents: The Hospital of the Future: Transforming Care Delivery
Why Work in Healthcare?