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mdtalk Episode 13: The rise of the agency nurse: how burnout has affected healthcare workers

By March 28, 2023March 29th, 2023No Comments
Image Reads: The rise of the agency nurse: how burnout has affected healthcare workers

Through the mdtalk podcast and video series, we’re on a mission to highlight the most critical issues impacting clinical research, the patient experience, and the future of healthcare.

Listen to the episode here or search for mdtalk wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode Summary

For this episode of mdtalk, host, and COO of mdgroup, LaQuinta Jernigan is joined by Stephanie Katz, Director of mdgroup’s sister company, seacolehealth.

seacolehealth is a talent agency for healthcare and research professionals seeking flexible and rewarding opportunities to work in patient healthcare and clinical studies worldwide. seacolehealth’s nurses and healthcare professionals deliver remarkable patient experiences for traditional, decentralised, and hybrid clinical trials.

Stephanie is a registered nurse who joined the seacolehealth team in 2021. Before this, she worked at the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, where she started as a nurse clinician before becoming a research nurse manager.

The discussion started with some scene setting around the current issues facing the healthcare industry in the USA:

Burnout and healthcare professionals

The ripple effect of the global pandemic continues to put a huge strain on healthcare systems across the world. But registered nurses (RNs) and healthcare professionals have been under mounting pressure for years, even before COVID-19.

Asked to do more — with less

In a November 2022 survey by McKinsey & Company, 32% of RNs indicated they were considering leaving their current role, a shocking 10% more than had claimed the same only 10 months earlier.

The most significant drivers of intent to leave are insufficient staffing levels, not feeling listened to or supported at work, and the emotional toll of the job. Stephanie and LaQuinta discussed why burnout among healthcare professionals has reached such high proportions.

“Nurses are exhausted,” says Steph. “This isn’t a recent phenomenon, however, and certainly from my nearly 20 years of experience in the field, the strain on the US healthcare system has been building for at least a decade before COVID-19.”

Stephanie goes on to detail some of the factors that have led to the current burnout situation and discuss how clinical trial nursing could be the answer.

An ageing workforce

Any growing and developing industry needs a steady stream of new professionals joining its ranks to maintain the workforce. But over the last few years, in addition to a large number of nurses leaving the profession, there’s been a relative decline in new nurses qualifying. In 2020, the average age of an RN in the United States was 50 years old.

The domino effect of the decreasing number of experienced RNs a the bedside is compounded by the problems created by a lack of investment and resources, resulting in a vicious professional cycle as follows:

  • Training and support of student nurses: the lack of time and attention that more experienced nurses can give younger colleagues gets stretched, ultimately leading to stress and disillusionment from younger nurses and a lack of engagement that contributes to early dropouts from the industry
  • Time with patients: quality time to spend on bedside patient care is getting more and more squeezed, with a focus on the logistical undertaking of symptom relief rather than the patient-centric, one-on-one focus on care that initially attracted the majority of nurses to the profession in the first place
  • Work/life balance: the lack of resources has a direct impact on shift length, work intensity, and team size

The overall effect of being treated as a resource rather than seen as a group of individuals within a hugely complicated profession is that nurses have to work harder under more and more challenging conditions than at any time in modern nursing history.

An advocate for nurses

What makes an excellent nurse is the selfless ability to put patients at the heart of care and the desire to support and work within a tight-knit team to support those patients.

However, the default setting of putting others first can often lead to poor boundary setting, leading to an ever-increasing workload and ever-decreasing work-life balance.

At seacolehealth, we celebrate the nurse’s desire to put patients first and advocate for them as professionals with incredible clinical skills.

Could research and clinical trials nursing provide the answer to burnout?

Clinical trials and research nursing allow healthcare professionals to practice completely differently.

As the clinical trials industry evolved in response to the global pandemic, with care becoming focused on where the patient was located rather than at the trial site, the nursing around it has also evolved.

An increasing number of experienced nursing professionals are needed to visit patients, undertake their care, and measure and record their progress accurately and sensitively.

Research and clinical trials need nurses

As well as keeping clinical skills active, this type of nursing offers a much better work/life balance and the opportunity to have greater agency over the types of assignments nurses are being asked to support.

Clinical trials nursing also speaks to the nurses’ original vocational desire to care. Nursing in this way doesn’t just have a direct and profound positive impact on the specific patient being seen for a visit but on every other patient suffering from the same condition that comes after them.

Clinical trials nurses have a direct, measurable, and positive impact on global health equity

Steph continues: “Most nurses don’t even know clinical trials nursing exists! But it’s a rewarding profession, making an enormous difference in global health care. There are additional challenges, for sure — and intensive, one-on-one training is given to those nurses who work with us to support them through that — but as well as the challenges, there is huge scope for rewards professionally, emotionally, and financially.”

Steph concludes: “We established seacolehealth to drive positive industry change. We’re fast establishing a team of nursing professionals with the same values who want to get back to doing what they do best: providing excellent, patient-centric care. I’m so excited about the future of this type of nursing practice. By working for seacolehealth you play a vital role in establishing global health equity — what a fantastic life’s work!”

Thank you to Stephanie Katz for joining us to discuss burnout in the healthcare industry.

What do you think is contributing to burnout in the nursing profession? Let’s keep the conversation going.

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