Challenges in nursing have existed since the beginning of the field. 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 one of the most trusted roles in society. Though difficult, nursing is a rewarding work that touches 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 nursing 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. Nightingale saw the value of extending this type of care beyond the home. She had a vision for overcoming these early challenges in nursing, 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. In a matter of weeks, death rates dropped and countless soldiers regained health.
Despite the challenges in nursing that Nightingale’s team faced, by the end of the 19th century, the whole Western world believed in the value of nursing.
Challenges in Nursing: 20th Century
Challenges in nursing moved to the hospital environment when care became more common in public facilities than homes. With this motion, a new problem arose: the quality of care was inconsistent and depended on the hospital.
As time went on, more standards in nursing were put into place. 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. 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
Challenges in nursing have changed over time, but the career itself remains true to 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 choice.
Advanced degree programs, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), have expanded the offerings and reach for modern-day nurses, equipping them with the skills they need to meet evolving challenges in nursing.
In the next portion of this article, we’ll do a deep-dive into modern challenges in nursing and discuss how nurses can still equip themselves for success.
The Nursing Landscape
Nurses touch people of all ages, ethnic groups, backgrounds, and communities. They work tirelessly to care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the sick and vulnerable.
Challenges in nursing are unique, because of the level of investment nurses have in their work. They get to know their patients, care about their needs, and play an important part in their patients’ recovery. They make a difference in the countless lives they touch, despite daily challenges in nursing.
To avoid burn-out, it’s important to be aware of today’s challenges in nursing and understand their impact. This will help you find ways to cope and self-care.
Challenges in Nursing: Long Hours
Long hours have been one of many consistent challenges in nursing. Nurses typically have demanding schedules because nursing is a 24/7, round-the-clock job.
These long hours can mean working several 12-hour shifts in a row, being on-call, or having overtime. Nurses’ schedules are demanding and 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 as secondary challenges in nursing, leading to the potential for costly medical mistakes.
If a nurse is juggling both a family and a career on top of the challenges in nursing, new problems present themselves. After a strenuous day of seeing patients, it can be tough to devote undivided attention to the needs of one’s own family, much less find time for self-care.
Challenges in Nursing: Physicality
Aside from long hours, one of the many challenges of nursing is that those hours are spent on one’s feet for most of the time. Nurses have physically demanding jobs and are required to help 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 workplace hazards is back injuries.
Shoulder injuries and leg pain are also common ailments. According to the American Journal of Critical Care, the nursing profession is the profession most at risk for back injuries.
This is one of the challenges of nursing that can force nurses to abandon the career they love and leave the profession for good.
Challenges in Nursing: Workplace Hazards
Working in the hospital or clinical environment, nurses face other challenges in nursing through workplace hazards. Exposure to cold and flu germs and other forms of bacteria and viruses pose a threat.
Another one of the challenges of nursing is coming in contact with sickness on a daily basis. contracting an infectious disease.
The reality is that nurses work with sick people. Thus, their exposure to someone with a highly infectious illness is much higher than the general population.
Sometimes a nurse might come in contact with a patient who has a virus before it has been diagnosed. Maybe the patient has come to the doctor or hospital with other symptoms; the signs of the virus aren’t even noticeable. This is one of the risks of being a nurse.
During the annual cold and flu season, nurses put themselves at risk daily. They often develop a strong resistance to many illnesses, but there’s always the chance for new and unusual viruses to crop up without any known vaccines or medication.
This is especially evident with today’s COVID-19 virus. To overcome one of the most serious challenges of nursing, nurses must turn to preventative care.
If they do get sick, it’s only common sense that they stay home and get bed rest. Nurses are human too! They must take care of themselves so they can return to the job they love—taking care of others.
Challenges in Nursing: Bullying and Harassment
Today, bullying has become a serious issue, and nurses are not immune to these challenges in nursing.
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 of nursing, and it’s something you might think would not affect the compassionate world that nurses live in.
In 1986, long before bullying became such a prevalent issue in society, a nursing professor named Judith Meissner coined a new saying: “Nurses eat their young.” Nurses might face physical or verbal abuse while working, and this doesn’t only come from patients.
Such harassment might come from other nurses or medical staff colleagues. Veteran nurses, unfortunately, are not always as welcoming or collaborative as they should be, and they might become impatient with new nurses.
Bullying and harassment by patients and their family members is an additional source of bullying. Medscape published the results of a 2017 poll showing that 71 percent of nurses had experienced being harassed by a patient.
This could take the form of stalking or inappropriate communication, whether in person or via social media. While this is one of the more daunting challenges of nursing, nurses must choose to stand up to bullies of any kind and demand respectful behavior from patients and peers alike.
Challenges in Nursing: Shortage of Nurses
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), “The number of nurses leaving the workforce each year has been growing steadily from around 40,000 in 2010 to nearly 80,000 by 2020.”
A continued shortage of nurses is one of the ongoing challenges of nursing. This contributes to nurses being stretched thin and overworked.
With more people having access to health insurance, more baby boomers living longer and fewer nurses available to replace those who are retiring, many hospitals today are short-staffed.
For a nurse who takes the care of patients seriously, it can be frustrating not to have enough time to devote to each individual patient or to interact compassionately with their patient’s families.
It’s mentally and emotionally draining to feel unable to provide adequate care and to always feel rushed. Nurses often see their role as a calling, and not being able to provide as much direct patient care as they feel is necessary is unmotivating and stressful.
Challenges in Nursing: Technology
Back in the eighties and nineties, pagers revolutionized how nurses and patients communicated. Fast-forward twenty years and those pagers seem pretty outdated.
The communications systems modern hospitals and clinics have access to are sophisticated and efficient, allowing everyone on the medical staff to stay in touch with patients via smartphones and apps.
Technological advancements have impacted the healthcare profession in positive and exciting ways, but technology also has created one of the newest challenges of 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.
With the challenges of long hours, how can a nurse keep up with all the newly emerging data? Added to an already heavy workload, dealing with new software or new equipment can seem overwhelming, especially if one doesn’t have a natural aptitude for technology.
For example, electronic records have made physical paper charts nearly obsolete. Faxing medical records is also a thing of the past for the most part. Now a patient’s history can be accessed with a click. Test results, medications, allergies, even religious affiliations—it’s all there.
Though nurses don’t need to spend much of their shifts doing paperwork, new technology requires new training and new proficiencies. All of this takes time, and time is a premium for today’s busy nurses.
How to Cope with Challenges in Nursing
Now that we’ve looked at the very real challenges of nursing that nursing professionals face, let’s look at the best practices for dealing with them.
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 will help you and your nursing colleagues function optimally.
1. Practice Regular Self-Care
To help your patients become healthy requires that you are 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. Focus on your family. 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 while putting yourself at risk.
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance with moving or lifting a patient who might be too heavy for you. Put your communication skills to work on your own behalf.
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
Even though nurses work in an environment populated by sick people, most of them never get sick. They become pros at knowing how to avoid germs and stay healthy during flu season.
How do they do it? They wash their hands; they avoid handshakes or too close contact with their patients. They keep surfaces clean and disinfected. It works!
Practicing good hygiene, such as washing their hands thoroughly and frequently, covering their mouths when they cough and their noses when they sneeze, and not touching their face are all simple but surprisingly effective ways nurses can protect themselves.
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.
These days, with the COVID-19 pandemic—one of the most serious of all challenges of nursing—nurses must take these measures and more. They must be fully protected so they can safely care for their patients.
To prevent the spread of this deadly virus, nurses need to follow infection control procedures as they seek to identify, contain and care for patients who show symptoms of COVID-19.
4. Stop Bullies in Their Tracks
You’d think you wouldn’t have to deal with bullies in the workplace, especially in a workplace geared toward wellness and serving those in pain, but the reality is that bullying is one of the growing challenges of nursing.
Being proactive is key here. Don’t hesitate to speak up. The sooner you deal with it, the stronger your position will be. Engage your body language too. Stand up straight and look the “bully” straight in the eyes.
By confronting a bully early on, you’ll have a better chance of curbing it. The longer you allow harassment to continue, the worse it will get. It typically won’t stop on its own, and it might become more intense.
It’s important to keep a written record of any harassment and bullying. Save any harassing or inappropriate correspondence (emails, social media posts, notes from meetings, etc.).
Concrete documentation is important for your own protection. In addition to going to your supervisor or the human resources department, seeking professional help to deal with a harassment situation can also be valuable.
If you see someone else being the victim of a bully, don’t be a silent bystander. You can try to defuse the situation by calmly stating what you see (the inappropriate behavior) and then offering a peaceful solution.
When other colleagues observe your example, they will also feel empowered to take a stand with you.
5. Don’t Short-Staff Yourself
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. Be Tech-Savvy
Technology is here to stay, and it will only get more sophisticated as time goes on.
Your main concern is caring for your patients, but the reality is that technology is your friend when it comes to doing your job. So it only pays to do your homework and stay up to speed on all things tech as it relates to nursing.
Keep in mind that technology is meant to make your life easier, and because of this, the learning curve is more than worth it.
After all, as a nurse, you’ve been trained to be a lifelong learner, so mastering technology is an ongoing way to improve your knowledge and skills. This will benefit your patients and your career.
Spring Arbor Nursing
Nurses face plenty of challenges as the field requires stamina, perseverance and commitment. But despite all the challenges of nursing, there are so many benefits to being a nurse.
It’s one of the greatest opportunities to apply your knowledge in tangible ways to help others. Nursing allows you to integrate your faith into your work life.
You can realize your God-given potential while you are 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.
Spring Arbor University’s online MSN students can choose from the following tracks:
- MSN- Nurse Practitioner (Family 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 engaged network of faculty and staff, you’ll have the support that you need. Our graduates emerge as nurse leaders who deliver quality patient care and are prepared to help others overcome challenges in nursing.
See Spring Arbor University Online's top nursing blog posts below.
- Advantages of Being a Nurse Practitioner
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