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The COVID-19 Nursing Workforce Crisis: Implications for National Health Security

Tener Goodwin Veenema, Diane Meyer, Cynda Hylton Rushton, Richard Bruns, Matthew Watson, Sarah Schneider-Firestone, Rebecca Wiseman
Date posted:
June 17, 2022
Publication type:
Health Secur. 2022 May-Jun;20(3):264-269.
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
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The us nursing workforce crisis represents a danger to the quality and safety of patient care and an imminent threat to the nation's health security. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a range of perversities related to the nursing profession, including the inequitable financing and compensation of the nursing workforce, lack of workplace protections, and the perception that nursing is a subservient profession. It has also exacerbated workforce issues that predated the pandemic, leading to physical and mental exhaustion, lack of trust and perceptions of betrayal by hospital leaders, and moral injury and burnout. Nurses are critical to the sustainability of the US healthcare system, to the health of communities, and to the ability of the nation to respond to health security threats, including pandemics, natural disasters, and other large-scale emergencies. In the absence of an adequate labor supply of nurses, healthcare services are substantially degraded, hindering the country's ability to respond to emergencies and ultimately putting patients at risk.

The United States has over 3.8 million registered nurses, making them the largest component of the healthcare workforce.1 In addition to providing patient care, nurses contribute to public health practice by dispensing and administering medical countermeasures, implementing infection control efforts, and expanding access to health services within historically disadvantaged populations. Yet as the United States is firmly entrenched in the third year of the pandemic, nurses are mentally and physically exhausted, emotionally demoralized, and many are exiting the profession.2 Our current state of diminished health system readiness combined with the recent trend in nurse resignations leaves the US health system more vulnerable to future pandemics and disasters, especially catastrophic events. Importantly, the likelihood of these events is increasing due to climate change, increased interaction at the human–animal interface, the ease of intercontinental travel, growing populations that live in close quarters, and instability in the global geopolitical climate.3,4

It is critical to illuminate the factors driving the current exodus from the nursing profession and the potential scenarios that may result. This information will inform the practice and policy changes needed to rapidly stabilize and strengthen our nation's nursing workforce and to rebuild a workforce that has the capacity, knowledge, skills, and flexibility to respond to future threats.



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