Home Health & Wellness Combating the Nurse Shortage: The Pivotal Role of Clinical Nurses

Combating the Nurse Shortage: The Pivotal Role of Clinical Nurses

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The nurse shortage is a pressing issue, with hospitals and healthcare facilities worldwide feeling the pinch. The unique role of clinical nurses in patient care puts them at the forefront of this problem. They’re not just caregivers – they’re critical cogs in the healthcare machine. They also face challenges that ripple out, impacting the broader healthcare system.

Understanding the nurse shortage

The shortage of nurses is not new. It’s a problem that healthcare settings of all types have been dealing with for some time. A few key factors have been fueling this shortage. Burnout is a significant one. Nurses often work long hours under immense pressure, leading to high-stress levels. At the same time, many long-time nurses are approaching retirement, which is leaving a void in the workforce.

The shortage of nurses has second and third-order effects. With fewer nurses on hand, patient-to-nurse ratios rise. This could mean less time for each patient and a potential dip in the quality of care. Clinical nurses especially have felt this effect. They are on the frontlines of patient care and are often pulled in many directions, managing many tasks at once. 

One of the other ripple effects is the financial impact. When hospitals and care facilities are short-staffed, they need to hire temporary or agency nurses. This can often be costlier than maintaining full-time staff. All of these things contribute to higher turnover rates from nurses.

That said, it’s not all bad. This issue is generally known and recognized by most people. The issue is being taken seriously by healthcare settings of all types. They are implementing different strategies to ensure that nurses not only survive in the future, but also thrive. 

Clinical nurses are a key part of this process, and that’s why it’s one of the best jobs for MSN holders. MSN courses, such as those offered by Cleveland State University, are increasingly becoming fully online courses. CSU’s MSN-CNL course does not require on-campus residency attendance and can be completed in under two years. This type of education flexibility is just one way that we will solve the nurse shortage.

Clinical nurses and retention

Clinical nurses bring an important set of skills to the table. Their practical knowledge and understanding of patient care are of crucial importance. Their ability to navigate the problems posed by the healthcare system is yet another reason why they are invaluable assets in the fight against staff shortages. Their key role in this battle is staff retention.

The mentorship provided by experienced clinical nurses is one solution that can contribute to reducing staff turnover. Newer nurses often face a steep learning curve and can feel overwhelmed by the demands of the job. Having a seasoned clinical nurse as a mentor provides a safety net. When times are tough, they can offer guidance, provide helpful counsel and extend emotional support.

In addition to being mentors, clinical nurses can also help to strengthen team dynamics. They understand that patient care is a team effort. Successful collaborative teams don’t just happen – they must be worked toward. They contribute to the development of a positive workplace culture where everyone feels valued and heard. They achieve this by prioritizing open communication so that problems don’t fester beneath the surface.

Clinical nurses can also help prevent significant issues before they arise. With their experience, they’re often the first to spot potential problems. This could be, for instance, a procedural bottleneck or a colleague struggling with the demands of the job. Clinical nurses can speak up about these concerns before they become bigger and help to solve them. All of this will help with retention.

Quality improvement initiatives 

In simple terms, clinical governance is about maintaining a high standard of care. Clinical nurses play a significant role in this process. They are regularly the first point of contact for patients and have a significant influence on the quality of care provided. Even beyond direct patient interactions, clinical nurses can influence process improvements such as patient flow and admission. 

There are many benefits to streamlining these areas, despite the fact that they may not seem significant at first. Wait times are reduced, and patient satisfaction is enhanced. You can think of a healthcare setting as a heap of different processes all connected in a chain. If one link in the chain breaks, it affects how well the rest of the chain moves. 

Along the same lines of improving efficiency is technology. Clinical nurses can play a role in ensuring that new technology is integrated successfully. The tech world moves fast, and new tools are always being developed. Healthcare facilities need to keep an eye on this area as small changes can often have big results. Clinical nurses serve as a bridge between these advancements and daily patient care. 

Misconceptions about clinical nurses

Although it’s improving, clinical nurses in the past have been seen as ‘just’ staff nurses. This is clearly a misconception and severely undervalues the role that they play. They are actually leaders, advocates and educators, not just staff members. They do not exist simply to follow orders from doctors. Their role is much more important.

Patient care is just one area. The role of the clinical nurse goes much further beyond this. They are also often the link in the chain between patients and specialists. When a critical situation emerges, they often take the lead. This is all on top of the quality improvement role discussed in the last section.

Interdepartmental collaborations are another area where clinical nurses shine. They act as bridges between departments, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. They navigate problems that occur, such as differing departmental goals or communication gaps. Just like the nurse shortage has a ripple effect, so do the positive benefits of the clinical nurse role. Their work can be seen throughout entire departments. When clinical nurses thrive, entire departments thrive.


Clinical nurses already play a key role, and this will only continue in the future. The nurse shortage is a big problem, but it’s also something that can be solved. More focus should be put on empowering clinical nurses so that we can leverage their varied expertise. They should have a greater say in decision-making and be provided with opportunities for advancement. This will contribute to the development of a more resilient healthcare system that is prepared for the future challenges coming our way.

Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle. 

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