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Elevating the nursing profession to stop the bleed: opinion

I started my nursing career 30 years ago in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit ward. During that time, I treated many diverse and complex cases and saw how my role as a nurse impacted patient lives. These experiences have motivated me to give my all to support those in the nursing profession. As the global health crisis continues to affect different countries, it is concerning to see my fellow nurses overwhelmed to the point that they are considering leaving the profession altogether.

Recent studies have uncovered the impact of the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of nurses. For example, in Australia, 61 per cent of health care workers have reported burnout and 28 per cent are experiencing symptoms of depression. Inevitably, this will impact the quality of patient care that they deliver. To help nurses keep up with the rising demands of the profession, they need better support and access to the latest training to perform their jobs well.

Nurses make up the largest healthcare workforce in Australia and are the lifeline of our healthcare system. Yet, it is estimated that there will be shortage of over 100,000 nurses by 2025, which is likely to be worsened by the ongoing pandemic. This International Nurses Day, we need to commit to support the nursing profession and “stop the bleed.”

Empowering nurses to develop their leadership potential

Nurses play a critical role in the patient journey, whether it is in hospitals or providing at-home care. They are often the first point of contact for patients and are present throughout the patient journey. However, one of the biggest challenges facing nurses is the lack of empowerment, which is more prevalent in developing countries. Nurses who do not feel engaged often feel unhappy, unmotivated, or under-appreciated in their roles. This often results in them leaving the profession or practising in more progressive countries which they believe will provide them with better career opportunities.

Having an empowered nursing workforce can greatly benefit the Australian healthcare system in times of crisis, like the current pandemic we’re experiencing. Nurses are well entrenched in the hospital systems and are capable of taking on more responsibilities and being more involved to drive better patient outcomes. Empowering nurses to take charge will not only elevate the skills of the nursing workforce but will also help free up clinicians’ time so they can provide more critical care for complex cases.

The nursing profession in Australia has undergone significant expansion, with considerable investments made by the government to train and develop the professional competencies of nurses. By doing so, nurses are expected to provide a high standard of care that incorporates research and innovation, enabling them to take on more leadership roles. Ultimately, empowering nurses through expanded skills and knowledge will help advance the profession while attracting and retaining talent.

Supporting nurses from bench to bedside

Another challenge faced by nurses in Australia is the lack of support they experience when they first enter the workforce. Many new nurses have indicated that they feel overwhelmed by the volume of urgent clinical decisions that they need to make, and do not always feel confident or fully prepared when making them.

The healthcare workforce was already stretched thin before the pandemic. Now, even the most seasoned nurses are finding it increasingly difficult to help train and support new nurses as they continue to provide urgent care for patients. Technology needs to be leveraged as a form of support for nurses as it provides them with credible, accurate, and accessible information to deliver high-quality patient care.

Clinician decision support tools can be integrated with existing electronic health record systems to provide evidence-based guidance that is aligned with the care planning workflow. This empowers nurses with actionable knowledge that supports their patients.

Additionally, nurse should have access to a central resource that provides quick access to information that can help bridge the gap from the classroom to the clinical setting. Elsevier felt compelled to provide this resource, which is why it launched its COVID-19 Healthcare Hub, an online resource repository with evidence-based research and information on COVID-19 that is accessible to healthcare professionals worldwide. The Hub provides complementary information such as care plans and procedure videos, along with guidelines and research materials, even vaccination toolkits for nurses. These tools and resources are empowering nurses to make efficient, evidence-based clinical decisions for better patient outcomes.

Adopting technology to drive the future of nursing

The future of healthcare is one that will largely be driven by innovative technologies, and those advancements will help overcome the challenges nurses are facing while helping to transform the way they deliver care. In 2020, The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) announced the launch of a new professional development program, which identifies the core digital health capabilities that nurses need to develop to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of their care.

An important element for the success of the program is digital literacy – or being able to understand and use the latest technology-driven solutions. Investing in evidence-based competency programs can promote adoption of technologies to assist with nursing workflows, ensuring that nurses are carrying out their responsibilities according to the latest clinical and organizational standards.

For example, St Stephen’s Hospital, Australia's first fully integrated digital hospital, provides nurses with access to Elsevier’s Clinical Skills, a comprehensive online solution of 1,900+ evidence-based skills and procedures with competency management tools that help to prepare nurses for encounters they will have with patients throughout their nursing career. Through these types of solutions, nurses are supported through the knowledge and skills needed to build individual expertise and integrated competencies, giving them confidence when treating patients.

For digital transformation to succeed and to develop strong digital literacy skills, healthcare institutions need to incorporate digital health education at the beginning of nursing career journey. Once nurses are familiar with the different forms of technology available, they will continue to use them throughout their careers and are more willing to adopt future types of technologies.  

Like all nurses, I am passionate about caring, nurturing and advocating for patients and believe technology will have a positive impact on the future of nursing and improving patient care.  

It is critical that the industry examines how we can elevate the profession and empower nurses through technology. By doing so, we will help curb the turnover in the profession and encourage future nurses to join this honorable and rewarding industry.

Robert Nieves is the vice president of Health Informatics, Clinical Solutions, Elsevier.

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