Nursing challenges have existed since the field began. From social disparities faced by the first nurses to modern-day staff shortages, challenges in nursing continue to evolve.
Today, nurses have gained respect as the most trusted roles in society and maintain the top ethics rating in the U.S., according to a 2022 Gallup poll. Though difficult, nursing is rewarding work that impacts countless lives.
In the following article, we’ll discuss past and present challenges in nursing. We’ll dive into the origin of nursing, then discuss how challenges in the field have progressed with the introduction of modern medicine, technology and more rigorous standards of education.
We’ll also take a look at how one can navigate daily challenges in nursing while delivering quality patient care.
Challenges in Nursing: In the Beginning
Professional nursing started with Florence Nightingale, a visionary who saw beyond the social norms of her time.
In the mid-1800s, the act of nursing consisted of women taking care of family members in their homes, and establishing nursing as a legitimate profession was a challenge. However, Nightingale saw the value of extending this type of care beyond the home, which would serve as an opportunity for both women and the profession to gain notice.
During the Crimean War, the British government assigned Nightingale and her small band of nurses to one of their military hospitals. They sanitized walls, let fresh air in, prepared healthy food and dispensed medicine. Not only were these changes made, Florence also used the scientific methods of observation and data analysis to determine their effects. In a matter of weeks, death rates dropped and countless soldiers regained health.
Challenges in Nursing: 20th Century
In the 20th century, nursing care became more common in public facilities than in homes. However, the quality of care was inconsistent and depended on the hospital.
As time went on, more standards were put into place to combat these inconsistencies and nursing challenges. Hospitals began providing their own training schools for nurses. This required nurses to learn on the job rather than at a university.
Inadvertently, this led to gender segregation in the field and promoted the stereotype that nursing was “women’s work.” These challenges in nursing were the norm until the latter half of the 20th century.
With the evolution of technology and industrialization, the nursing profession began to expand beyond hospital walls. In 1965 the American Nurses Association (ANA) released a position statement calling for nursing education to move to the higher educational setting in an attempt to professionalize the role. Programs in community colleges, technical colleges and universities replaced hospital training programs.
By the 1970s, universities also started offering doctoral programs, with a focus on science and research.
Challenges in Nursing: Today
Problems in nursing have changed over time, but the career itself is still a rewarding path for those who are motivated to serve others. Today, nursing is a vast and varied field, with a multitude of opportunities for those considering it as a career.
Advanced degree programs, such as Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs, have expanded the offerings and reach for modern-day nurses, equipping them with the skills they need to meet evolving challenges.
Nurses work hard to ensure that patients receive quality care. To avoid burnout, it’s important to be aware of today’s nursing challenges and understand their impact. This will help you find ways to cope and use self-care.
Long hours have been one of many consistent challenges for nurses. They typically have demanding schedules because nursing is a 24/7, round-the-clock job. These long hours can also mean working overtime, several 12-hour shifts in a row or being on-call. Because nurses’ schedules are demanding, working over 40 hours a week is not uncommon.
Over time, this can leave nurses feeling drained. Stress and exhaustion (both mental and physical) can present secondary challenges in nursing, leading to the potential for costly medical mistakes.
Nurses are on their feet most of the time. Nursing duties can be physically demanding, as in the case of helping to lift patients (from a wheelchair to a bed, for instance, or from the bed to the bathroom).
They do have access to equipment that can make these physical aspects less strenuous, such as slide sheets or mechanical lifts. However, nurses experience a high rate of work-related injuries — one of the most chronic being back injuries. Shoulder injuries and leg pain are also common ailments.
Safety on the Job
Nurses face additional challenges through workplace hazards in a hospital or clinical environment. Because nurses work with sick people, their risk of exposure to someone with an infectious illness is much higher than that of the general population.
The risk of exposure to and contraction of infectious diseases is one of the most serious challenges of nursing. A necessary measure to combat this challenge is for nurses to turn to preventative and self-care.
Workplace violence and bullying are serious issues, and the nursing field is not immune to these challenges. The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines bullying as “repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend and cause distress in the recipient.”
This is one of the more dangerous challenges nurses face, and it’s a prominent concern. According to a 2022 survey crafted by the healthcare performance company Press Ganey, more than two nursing personnel were assaulted every hour during Q2 of 2022.
According to a 2022 analysis conducted by McKinsey & Company, the United States may experience a registered nursing (RN) shortage of between 200,000 and 450,000 by 2025 without industry and government intervention.
A continued shortage of nurses is an ongoing challenge. This contributes to nurses being stretched thin and overworked. For a nurse who takes the care of patients seriously, it can be frustrating to not have enough time to devote to each individual patient or interact compassionately with their families.
Technological advancements have impacted the healthcare profession in positive and exciting ways, but technology has also created one of the newest challenges in nursing.
Technology moves at a very fast pace, and new advances can have an immediate impact on the way nurses work, requiring nurses to continually learn new skills. New software or equipment can seem overwhelming, especially if one doesn’t have a natural aptitude for technology.
Due to the nature of the job, nurses in certain clinical settings can be exposed to dying patients. Their death can evoke a wide range of emotions, such as sadness, compassion and helplessness.
It’s important for nurses to develop strong coping strategies that can help them prevent compassion fatigue from overwhelming them in the wake of patient death. Doing so can help them focus on delivering consistent care to every patient they encounter.
How to Cope with Challenges in Nursing
Nurses are a resilient, proactive group, and dealing with and overcoming the challenges of nursing is part of what makes them so amazing at their jobs and how they care for their patients.
The following tips can help nurses function optimally.
1. Practice Regular Self-Care
Providing high-quality care requires you to be healthy and feeling at your best. When you’re at work, take regular breaks, don’t skip meals and pace yourself.
When you leave work, leave work issues behind. Eat nutritiously, get adequate rest and take well-earned time for yourself.
Even a short walk can refresh your perspective. Don’t shortchange your own health and well-being — you and your patients will thank you.
2. Put Safety First
As a nurse, you are used to putting the safety of your patients first — but don’t do this if it puts yourself at risk.
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance with moving or lifting a patient who might be too heavy for you.
Form positive relationships with those you work with and be collaborative. Be proactive and make your voice heard if you see or experience something that poses a safety risk — either to a patient or to the medical staff.
Finally, if you do experience an injury on the job, take the time you need for healing; don’t continue to push yourself when you’re in pain.
3. Practice Good Hygiene
Practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and avoiding touching your face are all simple but surprisingly effective ways you can protect yourself from disease.
In the hospital setting, nurses can make sure they wear personal protective equipment, commonly known as PPE. This includes wearing gloves to protect their hands, masks to protect their mouths and noses, goggles to protect their eyes and gowns to protect their skin and other clothing.
4. Prioritize Workplace Wellness
If you’re a nurse leader, you can develop an organizational culture that emphasizes workplace wellness.
There are several tactics that can be used to bring this wellness mindset to fruition, and they can also help encourage nurse self-care. Designating a free room or rooms as quiet zones where nurses can go for a few minutes can allow them to alleviate stress and recharge their batteries. Having healthy snacks readily available can also help nurses maintain energy and keep them nourished, which could also help keep negative feelings at bay.
Engaging with nurses and seeking insight into the state of the current work environment can help nurses feel more included in the flow of the work environment, which could reduce frustrations that lead to nurse burnout or, in some cases, bullying or violent behaviors.
5. Be Mindful of Staff Shortages
If you find yourself working in a place that is short-staffed, you can attempt to negotiate with your supervisors to make sure your schedule is not negatively affecting your ability to function productively.
If there seems to be no way around an overly taxing schedule, be proactive and explore other nursing options. Remember, putting yourself at risk is counterproductive, both to your own health and that of your patients.
6. Build Technology Skills
Your main concern is caring for your patients, but the reality is that technology can help you do your job more efficiently. So it’s important to stay up to speed on nursing technology. Keep in mind that technology is meant to make your life easier, and because of this, the learning curve is more than worth it.
If you want to stay ahead of technology’s ever-evolving curve, consider proactively learning new tech skills. If you have long-term career ambitions in the nursing field, upskilling may also improve your chances for advancement, as you may have more tools to offer than the competition.
Build a Supportive Environment
Compassion fatigue is a big challenge in nursing and can lead nurses to withdraw from social interactions or isolate themselves from healthy relationships. These behaviors can make a nurse feel like they’re alone. If you’re a nurse leader, it’s important to minimize these behaviors by building a supportive environment.
Reassure your staff that they aren’t alone if they feel emotional after interacting with dying patients. Make them feel like they can share these emotions in a safe, inclusive environment.
There may be times when your staff needs additional support. In these instances, it’s important to encourage the use of a facility’s external support system, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These programs allow nurses to gain professional help and care regarding not only the driving factors behind compassion fatigue but other issues that may contribute to concerns such as nurse burnout.
How a Faith-Based Education Can Help
Nurses face plenty of challenges as the field requires stamina, perseverance and commitment. Earning a faith-based nursing degree can help provide the foundational elements needed to overcome these challenges. By integrating the knowledge and skills of a nursing program with a community that supports growth in faith and academics, you can cultivate a sense of support that can keep you centered as your career grows.
This sense of support can also help you maintain focus on the numerous benefits of being a nurse, including the profession’s ultimate goal of providing care that can improve patient lives. You can realize your God-given potential while impacting society as a whole for good. Meeting the challenges of nursing takes a special individual, one who is committed to providing the highest level of care to patients while also continuing to grow professionally and personally.
Overcoming Challenges in Nursing with an MSN
Advanced degrees offer more options, especially for nurses. If you’re interested in a more autonomous role, consider an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
In Spring Arbor University’s online MSN program, students can choose from the following tracks:
- MSN- Nurse Practitioner (Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner or Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner)
- MSN/ MBA Dual Degree
- MSN Ed.- Nurse Educator
There are also bridge programs available for students who do not yet hold a bachelor’s in nursing but want to pursue a master’s degree.
Spring Arbor University’s enriching curriculum combines the knowledge of medical and diagnostic practices with cultivating compassion that stems from the Christian faith.
Nursing students will become proficient in applying a holistic approach to treating patients as whole persons, not merely an impersonal mass of unrelated symptoms.
Spring Arbor’s online nursing programs are uniquely designed for working nurses to help you better cope with the challenges of nursing while you earn your degree.
With a flexible online format and an engaged network of faculty and staff, you’ll have the support that you need. Our graduates often emerge as nurse leaders who deliver quality patient care and are prepared to help others overcome challenges in nursing.
Explore Spring Arbor University’s programs and see which one is right for you.
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American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage
The American Journal for Nursing, “American Nurses’ Association’s First Position on Education for Nursing”
American Nurses Association, Violence, Incivility, & Bullying
Encyclopedia Britannica, Nursing
Encyclopedia Britannica, The Practice of Nursing
Gallup, “Nurses Retain Top Ethics Rating in U.S., but Below 2020 High”
Indeed, 8 Challenges as a Nurse and Tips for Overcoming Them
The Joint Commission, Quick Safety 24: Bullying Has No Place in Health Care (Updated June 2021)
Journal of Education and Health Promotion, “Challenges Faced by Nurses While Caring for COVID-19 Patients: A Qualitative Study”
McKinsey & Company, “Assessing the Lingering Impact of COVID-19 on the Nursing Workforce”
Press Ganey, On Average, Two Nurses are Assaulted Every Hour, New Press Ganey Analysis Finds
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