The Three Biggest Challenges Faced by Nurses

Most people realise that nursing is a tough profession that requires many years of rigorous education at the beginning with the possibility of long and unforgiving shifts afterward. These are not the greatest challenges nurses face. In fact, most nurses go into the profession expecting them, even those who may not necessarily elect to spend their careers in a hospital environment. The greater challenges facing nurses today are actually quite different. Here are three of the principle ones:

1. Administrative Issues

The increasing complexity of healthcare along with shortages in nursing professionals and other medical staff have created the perfect storm of bureaucratic morass. Whereas in the past nurses spent most of their time caring for patients, now nurses wear many hats in terms of the administrative duties that come with their positions. This is especially true in smaller office or clinic settings. During the economic downturn, as practices in many hard-hit cities struggled to stay solvent, the amount of multitasking increased as overall staff numbers trended downward. Even now, nurses remain challenged by the never-ending paperwork, added to an already gruelling workload.

2. Second Victim Syndrome

Second victims are healthcare workers involved in an unexpected and negative patient event, including medical error and/or patient injury. They then become traumatised by this event. The 
University of Missouri Health System provides an excellent overview of the topic. Essentially, nurses experience a unique type of trauma originating from poor healthcare outcomes for which they feel some degree of responsibility. This trauma may be lasting and affect both job performance and overall quality of life, much like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This phenomenon is becoming increasingly common among nurses on the front-lines of medicine, leading to greater burn out and departures from the profession.

3. Nursing Shortages

The previous two challenges are influenced by another phenomena: nursing shortages. These shortages have a variety of causes, including burn out and attrition, retirement, increased demand, and other factors. One serious concern to the profession right now is that so many experienced nurses are nearing retirement age, but an insufficient number are being trained to take their place in the fast-growing healthcare field.

Whatever the cause, shortages are set to have a negative impact on the quality of patient care if not resolved. Current thoughts on the topic stress the importance of retaining personnel and encouraging continuing education, as well as efforts toward early recruitment from high schools, community colleges, and universities. Job security is relatively high, along with competitive pay and benefits; however, the shortage has been an ongoing issue for more than a decade. These well-deserved perks have yet to resolve the issue.


The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has examined challenges facing the nursing profession internationally and developed a concise overview of a few key issues on which they have focused serious attention. Among these, the nursing shortage makes up a major part. Related issues regarding increased administrative duties and incidence of Second Victim Syndrome are worth examining as well.

Mary is a retired nurse and enjoys offering advice to those who are job-hunting. She recommends agencies such as Team24 Private Nursing, for nursing and healthcare professionals.


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