2022 was a difficult year for many healthcare organizations and though emergence from full-scale “pandemic operations” was a reality for many, the other reality was that the nursing shortage continued to ravage systems. This ongoing saga has left many nurse leaders individually feeling helpless. The good news is that nurse leaders – and nursing as a whole – can continue to prosper past the pandemic with the right strategies and support. To do so, here are 3 lessons that nurse leaders should reflect on from last year and as we head into 2023.
1. Patients are more stressed than ever, and that translates to more stress for nurses.
Just because the pandemic is not at the crisis level it was, factors impacting patients’ mental well-being persist and they are showing up to our health care systems with more emotional, financial, and emotional burden than ever. This increased stress causes nurses to become unskilled and likely lose their already-limited source of empathy. To support frontline nursing teams, we need to acknowledge this is real for all of us, including patients, and look for these “empathy cues” that patients and those around us offer. When we see them, staff need to be prepared to respond, as empathy is often the most effective de-escalator. Beyond that and of utmost importance is that staff also feel empowered with tools to set verbal and physical boundaries with patients. At a unit meeting or team huddle, consider giving your staff a few statements to use when feeling tested by patients, families, or even peers, that can help to not only de-escalate a situation but can also enable them to gain control over the interaction. Also, consider using your nurse leader rounds as a time to role model these skills of empathy and boundary setting with patients or others.
Quick Tips for Responding to Empathy Cues
2. The nursing shortage has only just begun… unless we do something different (which we can).
When discussing quality outcomes and related leadership strategies, I frequently hear nurse leaders say “Once we get our staffing back to how it should be, we will be able to do better” or, “Once we hire into all of our vacancies that are filled with travelers, we will have our own staff that have more stake in our outcomes.” Those ideas are ideal in concept, but impractical. Our current shortage is expected to persist well past the immediacy of the pandemic (into at least 2030), however, at the level of the patient and bedside, as nurse leaders we can positively promote nursing and our impact. This act of a positive image and portrayal of nursing is often absent, and historically, such a gap has resulted in driving nurses away from practice (Buerhaus, 2021). As nurse leaders we can role model this to own and disrupt the cycle. Consider asking your team during huddles or meetings about moments they felt proud to be a nurse during their most recent shift, or a moment where they could “see” the positive power of nursing at play with a patient or peer.
For more information about the current nursing shortage: Nurse Shortage Fact Sheet
3. What’s old is new when it comes to nursing leadership tactics to improve experience of patients and staff.
For several years now, nurses and their respective leaders had to rapidly innovate to deliver care. However, what does not need any innovation are the leadership tactics that enable frontline nurse leaders to manage and support their teams amidst daily challenges, whether they are old or new. Now is the time for nurse leaders’ to fully immerse in reinvigoration or renewed utilization of best practices pertaining to employee recognition, Just Culture, and nurse leader rounds. Ensuring these tactics are a part of daily, frontline leadership will help organizations get back to business as usual.
While things will never be the same as they were before the pandemic, much of what we are trying to solve everyday is still best accomplished through highly skilled nursing leadership at its core. If we keep that in mind, nurses will continue to shape and evolve care delivery in 2023 and beyond.