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A check-up on the nursing profession in CT during National Nurses Week

Health care workers and allies rally for safe staffing for health care workers outside of the Capitol Building in Hartford, Connecticut.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Health care workers and allies rally for safe staffing for health care workers outside of the Capitol Building in Hartford, Connecticut.

As the state stops to express appreciation during National Nurses Week, professionals are also reflecting on the challenges confronting the nursing profession.

Across the United States, there's an ongoing nursing shortage. It's a multifaceted crisis, driven by factors like an aging population, a significant number of nurses reaching retirement age, limitations in nursing education capacity and the added strain from the pandemic causing experienced nurses to exit the field.

Larry Slater, dean of the Quinnipiac University School of Nursing, said the nursing shortage in Connecticut is different from the national shortage.

When we look on the national front, about all the registered nurses we have, about 88% of them, are actually still working in nursing,” Slater said. “Whereas in the state of Connecticut, with our 90,000 registered nurses … a little over 50% are actually working in the nursing profession.”

The reasons behind Connecticut's shortage are difficult to pinpoint, he says.

Nurse-patient ratios

Although there are no specific laws in the state of Connecticut mandating specific nurse-to-patient ratios, Slater said there could be ways to keep nurses from feeling overwhelmed with their caseload.

He’d like to see safe staffing legislation, rather than ratios.

“Every facility is different. And one of the key things that we want to see in these types of safe-staffing legislation or initiatives, are nurses who are the ones working on the frontlines participating on these high-level committees,” he said. “ Whether it's a hospital, a clinic, an urgent care center, an infusion center, [nurses are] in the decision-making process in what is safe staffing for that particular institution, as well as their individualized units.”

Connecticut lawmakers in 2023 approved a plan that requires hospitals set up staffing committees and that direct care registered nurses make up a majority of the membership. In a follow-up email, Slater said he is “pleased with what Connecticut is doing in terms of safe staffing and adding nurses to committees."

He said that addresses issues related to burnout, and nurses leaving the profession because they are overworked.

“Their patient loads are a little too high because they're short-staffed. And in the long run that impacts our patient outcomes and we want to provide the best care that we possibly can as nurses,” he said.

Traits essential for someone pursuing a career in nursing

Among the solutions mentioned to address the shortage is more recruitment.

“Everybody considers nurses as compassionate and caring, and those remain essential,” Slater said. “We look at that holistic care. We're not just taking care of the physical ailment or issue, but their mind, their spirit, their emotional, their mental well-being also.”

He said people who like to take a holistic approach will find a good fit in nursing.

“We can work with you to develop your strength in the STEM classes,” Slater said. “There's a lot that goes into becoming a nurse. But if you have those basic skills of empathy, of caring, of compassion, of holism, then you will be an excellent nurse.”

Update: We’ve updated this story to indicate Connecticut lawmakers approved a hospital staffing committee plan and included additional comments from Slater.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.
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