This article was first published in TheCarerUK
Nurses, doctors, care workers and specialist healthcare practitioners have been celebrated over the past nine months. Their commitment and workload have increased, and new responsibilities taken on. New skills are learned: due in part to need, but also due to progression of medical technology.
But is such skill acquisition a short-term reaction to the current pressures in healthcare – or is it part of the long-term future of essential nursing practice? That is, do the nurses of the future need the fundamental ability and capability to face new agile ways of working? Indeed, perhaps they already have these.
Nursing as a Renaissance Career
We know nursing skills are hugely transferable – and the career options broad. Opportunities of moving into nurse specialisms or leader- ship roles abound, and they offer incumbents real career agility. And yet there is a nursing shortage.
The World Health Organization published its The State of the World’s Nursing 2020, and its findings – even before the pandemic – identifies important gaps in the nursing workforce. With a global shortfall of 5.9 million nurses, we need more trained nurses. While the greatest gaps are found in countries in Africa, South East Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean region, the US and across Europe also have significant vacancies.
Even with a reported uptick post-pandemic in applications, it will be hard to fill the gap. One out of six of the world’s nurses are expected to retire in the next 10 years. And, there are reports of a possible exodus from the nursing profession due to workload and stress.
Rethinking the Hiring of Nursing Talent
Attraction of talent to the sector has relied on the career being a ‘vocation’. Nurses who are retired, students, or in-post, all talk of the desire to help, care and support the sick and injured. The profession has the respect – and gratitude – of the public, recognised degree-level training and CPD and embedded pay structures.
How, then, can healthcare authorities and providers attract more talent?
Tapping the Untapped Talent Pool
The talent pool is larger than it has been for decades with people finding themselves unemployed due to the economic downturn or needing to return to work following a career break.
But recruiting new nurses into the profession has a long lead time. Training qualified nurses is, understandably, long. What if an apprenticeship scheme could be developed to train and pay nurses simultaneously, based in the real work environment?
Spotting Those with the Qualities of a Great Nurse
Would it also be valuable to look at the characteristics, skills and behaviours needed of nurses, identify these at applicant stage and hire those we know to have the disposition to embrace the role?
Indeed, this is how we at Aon have helped one healthcare provider, designing a bespoke situational judgement questionnaire. Having worked through with the client what they were looking for in their nursing professionals and detailed the situations in which they face, we designed a very specific behavioural questionnaire that pinpoints those candidates with the capabilities and approach needed to thrive in and contribute to that particular healthcare setting.
Through its work, Aon is also helping healthcare specific training providers identify the agility and learning potential for individuals, so they can tailor selection and content delivery to ensure that ‘graduates’ from the programme are easily employable and maximise their career opportunities.
View Retention as a Replacement to Recruitment
A two-pronged approach is needed to bridge the gap between healthcare demand and number of current nursing professionals. Attracting, training and hiring talent is one aspect. The other is retention – and part of this could be poor perception of working conditions.
Nurses have a variety of career options available: progression to nurse specialisms; taking on leadership roles; moving to allied health- care roles. If there is a lack of visibility of career paths, perhaps this is a communications story: being clear that nursing supports an entire career. About 90 per cent of all nurses are female, yet few nurses are found in senior health leadership positions and the bulk of those positions are held by men. But when countries enable nurses to take a leadership role, for example by having a government chief nursing officer (or equivalent), and nursing leadership programs, conditions for nurses improve.
And What of the Future?
It’s clear that the nursing role is changing. Augmented medical technology allows nurses to take on new tasks and work alongside doctors and allied healthcare workers as side-by-side partners. The eco-system of medical and social care will strengthen and, going forward, health- care authorities and settings will need to understand those who have the qualities to adapt to the challenges and changes of the future how- ever the roles develop.
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