Nurses are Experiencing Burnout and Exhaustion, Leading to Staff Shortages

SLU nursing students offer insight into the challenges presented by the nursing shortages

The ongoing issue of nurse shortages has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is hitting St. Louis hospitals hard. This nationwide phenomenon existed prior to the pandemic, however, hospitals are increasingly being caught in a vicious cycle in which health care workers may contract COVID-19 and have to isolate, resulting in the lack of hospital staff. In turn, nurses grow overworked, experience burnout and resign from their jobs. Furthermore, the demand for nurses in the United States is extremely high and some individuals may leave their job for a higher paying one.

   As a short-term fix to this crisis, hospitals are hiring traveling nurses. These are temporary nurses that are brought in from various states and countries to aid hospitals during nurse shortages. Due to the high demand for traveling nurses, they are paid a greater amount than staff nurses, which has caused frustration within the profession. 

   The surge of the Omicron variant has led to a record number of COVID-19 patients in the St. Louis area, overwhelming and overworking hospital staff. KSDK reports from early January indicate that out of the 964 patients admitted to the St. Louis hospitals, 67 percent were unvaccinated and 33 percent were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This discrepancy between vaccine status showcases that hospitalizations are primarily occurring amongst the unvaccinated population. These numbers, in turn, are reflective of the amount of pressure and stress nurses experience. Healthcare workers that were considered “healthcare heroes” at the start of the pandemic are often the target of frustration of patients with positive COVID-19 test results.  Upon receiving a positive COVID-19 test result, some patients get angry with their nurses and deny their results. Many of these individuals, according to local health care workers, do not believe in the reality of the virus and are typically unvaccinated. The brash reactions of patients are both disheartening and frustrating for those trying to do their jobs. 

   The growing crisis of nurse shortages can be daunting for the next generation of students, who are studying to become nurses during the pandemic. Current SLU students have reported feeling discouraged at times due to the current circumstances in the medical field.

   “It is scary to hear about the unbalanced nurse-to-patient ratio, as having to fulfill timed orders for five or more patients puts a lot of pressure on a singular nurse,” junior Sara Coleman explains. Coleman further indicated that the pandemic has highlighted the amount of hard work and dedication that is required of health care workers. Along with the mental health effects that inevitably arise from being overloaded with work, nurses are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their constant exposure. 

   After observing the burnout of young nurses, some SLU students describe feeling nervous about their pursuit of nursing. “I chose nursing because I thought it was something that I would genuinely enjoy doing, but now I’m afraid that I will quickly become tired of it,” junior Shelby Berghorst says. This is a real concern that many individuals are bringing to light. Much of the future of the nursing profession relies on this generation. 

   The pandemic has shown a rise in nursing students, as individuals may feel inspired by current health care workers to pursue nursing; however, this is not the case for everyone. The pandemic has presented numerous challenges within the medical field resulting in a fear of negative experiences. This can deter some individuals from going into a career that they were previously passionate about. Both students and nurses alike may experience a lack of motivation to continue in this path of medicine. Coleman urges these individuals to reflect on the reasons why they chose to go into the medical field. 

   Berghorst explains that many health care workers have taken to social media to express their frustration online. She notes that while nurses are enduring a great deal of stress, a lot of them are trying to remain devoted to their mission. 

   “​​One ICU nurse recently made a video saying that she still cares for COVID patients who do not believe that the virus is real,” Berghorst says. 

   Berghorst also noted the increasing hostility towards health care workers due to a rise in distrust. Having to navigate difficult patients while trying to save their lives is an exhausting process. 

   Despite the copious amount of stress nurses experience, Coleman notes that there is a good support system in the area. “One thing I have noticed at the different hospitals in the area is that the nurses are happy to help their colleagues out when things get hectic. These relationships have motivated me, as they are a reminder that no matter how daunting the circumstances, if you are on the right team you are never alone.”

   The effects of the continuing nursing shortages highlight the importance of healthcare professionals. “Nursing poses a great opportunity to make an impact on someone’s life, big or small. The world will always need nurses, but especially now,” Coleman says.