Part of this was because of the real fear about nursing during COVID. As Rupp points out, “I know [my daughter, who is an ER nurse] is thinking, ‘It’s my duty. I became a nurse to do this. I have to do my shifts, but I’m scared.’”
Choosing between their patients’ lives and their own lives and health was undoubtedly enough for some nurses to rethink their career choice. For others, the pandemic only exacerbated issues that had long been boiling below the surface. Chief among these? Patient load.
Determining a standard nurse-to-patient ratio is more difficult than it sounds. The standard varies among states, hospitals and even departments. In fact, California is the only state to specify by law a nurse-to-patient ratio. In intensive care, that ratio is one nurse for every two patients. In the ER, it’s one nurse for every four patients.
The ideals may not have been met during the pandemic, however. The same Hospital IQ survey found that 45% of respondents experienced a 5:1 or higher patient-to-nurse ratio across shifts. Further, 96% of critical care nurses and 84% of emergency room nurses surveyed reported that they experienced a 4:1 ratio or higher.
Caring for more patients is one thing. Doing so with limited resources is another. The pandemic’s effects could also be felt in education. During the worst of COVID, nursing students had to complete their clinical hours via simulation since on-site opportunities in hospitals evaporated with the lockdowns.