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Pandemic Effects Nursing Numbers in Utah


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The nursing shortage in Utah began long before COVID-19 hit in 2020, but the pandemic made things even worse. Dr. Andrew Nydegger and Karli Bell from the Salt Lake City campus discuss the factors that are increasing the gap.


Officials say pandemic exacerbated already flagging nurse numbers in Utah

By Jamie Lampros – Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 25, 2022

The nursing shortage in Utah is a major problem, health professionals say, and while it stems long before COVID-19 hit in 2020, the pandemic made things even worse.

Dr. Andy Nydegger, president-elect of the Utah Nurses Association and executive director of academic operations for Arizona College of Nursing’s Salt Lake City campus, said one reason for the shortage is burnout, but it’s not the biggest factor.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the crisis, and while nursing burnout has causes nurses to leave the profession, it is not the main reason for the shortage,” he said. “The general population is aging, so it has increased the need for patient care. At the same time, the baby boomers are retiring, creating a larger gap.”

Kari Bell, a clinical researcher and nursing faculty member at the Arizona College nursing school in Utah, said shift work is very tough on nurses, which may be another reason for the shortage and burnout.

“A 12-hour shift is usually a lot longer,” she said. “When I experience burnout, it spills over to the other parts of my life. I can become ornery and I lack enthusiasm in other parts of my life. I must be really careful, because I have five kids at home and want to be there for them at my best.”

Bell said nurses meet patients when they are not at their best selves. Sometimes they are facing the unknown, feeling pain or have experienced severe trauma.

“It can be emotionally exhausting to meet them at their level,” she said.

There are currently 38,000 active licensed nurses in Utah, Nydegger said

That number should be much higher. According to Nydegger, while salaries in Utah have gone up, they remain below the national average, something he said needs to change if the state wants to attract new nurses and retain its existing ones.

Overworking also needs to be addressed, he said, if the state wants to attract new nurses.

“I think providers need to ensure the nurse-to-patient ratio is manageable so nurses can provide excellent care to their patients,” he said. “Nurses need regular meal breaks and rest. That doesn’t happen if the nurse-to-patient ratio is off.”

Nydegger said it’s also vital to instill in nurses the importance of self-care.

“This is something we teach in our curriculum at the college. Students need to learn about self-care before they enter the profession,” he said. “It won’t get any easier once they are in the field. We also need to provide better resources for nurses like readily available counseling. Mental health is as important as physical health.”

Bell agrees that self-care is critical.

“Self-care is huge. You really can’t help others if you can’t help yourself,” she said. “Make time to do things you love. During COVID, I knew other nurses that tapped their creative side and took up art and poetry. Being outdoors recharges me and it’s one of my self-care priorities.”

Bell said while the nursing shortage isn’t getting any better, it’s nice to be in a field where you know you will always have rewarding opportunities. If she had to do it over and could choose a new occupation, she said, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“There are so many areas of specialty. In nursing, you don’t have to change your career to change jobs,” Bell said. Being a nurse is a healer’s art and you must be committed to treating any patient as you would a loved one. Nursing school and the profession of nursing are hard, but it is a very rewarding field. Not only are you changing others’ lives, but you are also changing your own life. Now that I am teaching, I can lift up the next generation of nurses.”

Read the original article from the Standard-Examiner here.