As global healthcare systems begin to struggle under the strain of the novel coronavirus, new reports show that there are not enough nurses to meet worldwide health development goals, even without a global pandemic to content with. The report by the World Health Organization (WHO), entitled State of the World's Nursing, estimates that there was a worldwide shortage of 5.9m nurses in 2018 - a slight improvement on the 6.6m shortage two years earlier. The report was published on World Health Day, an annual event organized by WHO, which is focused on supporting nurses and midwives around the world, many of whom are currently serving on the COVID19 response frontlines. 

We Need 6 Million Nurses:

In order to achieve global health development goals, the WHO is calling for at least six million new nursing jobs to be created in the next ten years, primarily in middle- and low-income countries. According to the authors of the report, while the workforce of nursing is currently expanding in many ways, this expansion is not enough to meet the rising demand for healthcare and some populations are being left behind. The goal for sustainable development outlined in the report aims to ensure healthy living and promote wellbeing, including the provision of universal health coverage. 

How Many Nurses Do We Currently Have?

Right now, there are currently 27.9m nurses around the world; a number that's risen by 4.7m between 2013 and 2019. Over 80% of these nurses are found in countries that make up half of the world's population. On the other hand, in lower and middle-income countries, the growth in the number of nurses is barely keeping up with population growth, which has led to acute shortages. According to the report, these countries will need an additional five million nurses in order to ensure that requirements are met. 

How Will the Shortage Be Addressed?

According to the report, the total number of nurse graduates would need to increase worldwide by an average of 8% in order to ensure that the shortage is addressed by 2030. There will also need to be an improved capacity to both employ and retain these nursing graduates, such as offering more career-building pathways like the MSN DNP provided by Baylor University Online. Along with creating new nursing jobs, the report encourages governments around the world to invest in a huge acceleration of nursing education in order to meet demand, address global needs and adapt to changing technologies and new integrated health and social care methods. It also suggests strengthening nurse leadership in order to ensure that nurses have a key role in decision-making and forming health policy, as they contribute to the effectiveness of health and social care systems. 

Managing the Gender Gap in Nursing:

The report also touched on the fact the countries should focus on developing policies that take into consideration the fact that the nursing profession is still mainly made up of female employees. There should be laws that address the gender pay gap, which applies to both the public and private sectors, and flexible, manageable working hours should be encouraged. 

How COVID19 is Testing Nurses:

The report has come at a time where the world is seeing an unprecedented commitment from governments and politicians to universal health coverage. But at the same time, emergency preparedness and response capacity of healthcare systems around the world are being tested by the current outbreak of the novel coronavirus and conflict leading to mass population displacement, both circumstances where nurses are key providers of vital care. According to the report, the world needs nurses to be working to the full extent of their education and training right now more than ever. 

What Can Nursing Expect for the Future?

It's imperative for healthcare organizations and nursing schools to anticipate the ripple effects of the pandemic, such as ensuring that emergency room and ICU nurses are provided with appropriate financial compensation for putting their lives at risk every single day; a move that would provide more incentive for both recruitment and retention in these nursing specialties in the future. And, it should be more clear that there's no 'one-size-fits-all' version of nursing anymore. Modern nursing has become specific to the area of medicine that is being practiced - healthcare has become highly specialized and nursing has naturally followed. Not all nurses are equal, and some nurses might be more suited to the ICU or emergency room than others, which speaks to the great multiplicity that this profession has to offer. 

Encouraging More People to Get Into Nursing:

One possible ripple effect of the current crisis that should be quickly addressed is the possibility of people becoming fearful of joining the nursing profession or healthcare in general. In order to ensure this does not happen, it will be imperative to put an action in place to fix the broken system that is making unreasonable demands of nurses, such as asking them to break the rules of training and enter highly risky situations without proper support or even the right personal protective equipment. Unsustainable and unthinkable demands on nurses are a huge part of why we are in a nursing shortage, and in order to ensure that the world reaches the goal of adding six million nurses to healthcare systems in the next ten years, big changes will need to be made. 

The COVID19 pandemic has brought several issues in healthcare to light around the world, from making it clear that we need more nurses worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, to more focus on the demands placed on nurses and the risks that they take in their careers every day. It has made clear the fact that if more nurses are to be recruited and retained in order to reach the goal of six million more nurses worldwide in 2030, big changes to the healthcare system, from providing ample personal protective equipment to improving salaries for ICU and emergency nurses who often put themselves at the most risk to care for their patients.