«It needn’t always be the specialist.»
21.03.2023 The healthcare sector has long struggled with a shortage of skilled workers. We spoke with Sabine Hahn (SH) and Christoph Golz (CG) to learn more about why this challenge has persisted, how it affects the safety of patients and staff and what might be done to solve it.
The shortage of skilled workers and safety in the healthcare sector – how are these two things connected?
CG: It’s accepted as fact that being understaffed or staffing underqualified workers leads to higher mortality rates. Safety is not, however, a concern limited to patients. It extends to staff as well, because when skilled employees are overworked, they are compelled to prioritise under a great deal of time pressure and mental stress.
SH: Exactly. This can lead to psychological strain among practitioners because they are no longer able to perform in accordance with patient needs, meaning they aren’t meeting their own values and professional standards. They often experience stress and frustration as a result. In some cases, these professionals will leave the healthcare sector outright.
What role does stress play in the shortage of skilled workers?
CG: In the healthcare sector, we see three major stressors: first, work-life balance. Shift work and planning oversight are key factors here. Then come leadership and leadership qualities. Beyond professional skills, emotional intelligence is increasingly in demand here. And third is that there are often limited opportunities for professional development or continued learning.
SH: Management must recognise and promote employee strengths, despite or, indeed, because of the shortage of skilled workers. Failing that, they run the risk of employees experiencing work as the daily grind, rather than something they pursue with passion.
What can be done about the stress?
CG: The BFH research project on strain has shown that stress among nursing staff can only be reduced when managers have the problem under control, so our recommendation speaks straight to management: change starts with you!
We have developed recommended courses of action for healthcare providers. We suggest concrete ways to improve employees’ sense of security by involving them in plan-making or delegating planning tasks. Then there’s the offer of targeted professional development, which is a sign of staff appreciation.
There’s the price tag to consider, though. How can smaller, less financially sound institutions offer such training?
SH: We recommend that small institutions train according to their needs. Alternative formats are also a fantastic way to provide continuing education opportunities, whether periodic lectures, targeted training of individuals who then bring this knowledge back to the company, or collaboration with other institutions. Even small-scale initiatives can make a difference.
CG: E-learning is another effective, affordable solution. At BFH, for instance, we created virtual resources to teach employees the importance of not going to work when ill.
SH: Another great example is our specialist course on aggression in the healthcare sector, aimed at management. Instruction takes place mostly online, with e-learning components that allow for independent study.
Are there things that healthcare workers can do themselves to improve their daily work routine?
SH: There is a lot to be said for simply knowing one’s own limits. As a healthcare professional, when you’re clear about what you can and cannot do, it takes a lot of pressure off.
CG: There are certainly ways to strengthen one’s own resilience, to develop coping mechanisms and thus to better deal with stressful situations. But we must guard against simply dumping the responsibility onto the individual.
What should be done instead?
SH: One need look no further than intensive care units: here, the law clearly specifies how many nurses are needed per patient. This set patient-to-nurse ratio protects staff and the population from inadequate care and the associated risks.
What influence do patients have on the shortage of skilled workers?
CG: Trends show that many go to the emergency department even for small things. Such trifles then tie up highly qualified staff. When overqualified professionals are tending to aches and pains, it costs a lot.
SH: But patients often don’t know where to turn. We therefore need to invest more in communications at GP surgeries or local health centres. It needn’t always be the specialist.
Prof. Dr. Sabine Hahn: Head of Nursing Division: shortage of healthcare professionals, new roles, grade mix and collaboration, complexity management, management, leadership and trainee development, innovation promotion and management
Dr. Christoph Golz: Head of Innovation Field Healthcare & Human Resources Development
Keep up with the latest research in health and healthcare: Treffpunkt Gesundheitsforschung und Pflege