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Nurse shortage

Nurse Shortage: An Inconvenient Reality for society

There is no denying the fact that the nursing profession is under pressure. Shockingly, nurses have musculoskeletal disorders at a rate exceeding that of workers in construction, mining and manufacturing (Kim, 2017). Unfortunately, with an aging population, the need for nurses will only increase, adding to the preexisting burden of the profession. While a greying population is inevitable, the toll it takes on nurses is not.

Nurse burden is a term that refers to the workload of nurses. It consists of physical, mental and emotional factors. Studies show that nurse burden is associated with multiple negative outcomes, such as suboptimal patient care, increased sick leave and high turnover rates – all entailing high costs. In the U.S., turnover costs range from $22,000 to more than $64,000 per nurse turnover (Jones, 2008), while the average direct cost per claim for work related injuries among nurses is at $27,407 (Hunter et al., 2010). Nurse burden also has severe consequences for the patients; an increase in nurse workload by one percent increases the likelihood of inpatient hospital mortality by 7% (Aiken et al., 2014). Despite the tale the numbers tell, little has been done to tackle the problem.

In the U.S., turnover costs range from $22,000 to more than $64,000 per nurse turnover

— Jones, 2008

The problem of nurse burden can be partly explained by the fact that the patient population has changed drastically over the course of the past 50 years. Patients are older, less mobile and more complex – many have multiple comorbidities. Yet nursing protocols and medical equipment that aid with patient handling have remained much the same. Moreover, the dramatic cost increases in hospitals has led to cost containment measures that are quick to cut down on personnel and technology. This does nothing to improve nurse retention rates. The RN4CAST study found that 20 – 50 % of nurses in every participating European country intended to leave their current job (Zander et al., 2016). Rather than focusing on cutting immediate costs, hospitals should look at investments that increase value – this can have a much more significant effect on costs in the long run.

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The scope of the problem is undeniable: 85% of nurses suffer a back injury at some point in their career, accounting for 15 billion working days lost, costing approximately €6 billion each year for European hospitals (Ankith and Venugopal 2016). By shifting our focus towards reducing nurse burden, costs will also be reduced: the majority of work-related injuries are due to repetitive strain over time. Investment in technologies that reduce strain on nurses is therefore essential:

In our interviews with occupational therapists, we learned that access to equipment that reduces strain is one of the most important factors in avoiding work-place injuries for nurses. Correct form when lifting a 150 kg patient can only take you so far

Nurse burden is an inconvenient reality. That does not mean it is an inevitability. Investing in technology that takes the strain off the nurses and on to the equipment is an important step towards reducing nurse burden.


  • Aiken, L. H. et al. (2014). Nurse staffing and education and hospital mortality in nine European countries: a retrospective study. Lancet, 383(9931), 1824-1830.
  • Hunter, B. et al. (2010). Saving costs, saving health care providers' backs, and creating a safe patient environment. Nurs Econ, 28(2), 130-134.
  • Jones, C. B. (2008). Revisiting nurse turnover costs: adjusting for inflation. J Nurs Adm, 38(1), 11-18
  • Kim, J. (2017). Ergonomic Explorations for the Safety and Health Improvement in Hospital and Healthcare Professions. J Ergonomics, 7(3), e167
  • Venkata Ankith, K. and Venugopal, T. (2016). Automatically Configurable Smart Bed. IJAMPE, 2(4), 11-15
  • Zander, B. et al. (2016). The state of nursing in the European Union. Eurohealth, 22(1), 3-6