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3 Ways to Address Healthcare Staffing Shortages and Improve Retention: By Kristi McDermott, President of Clinical Engineering, TRIMEDX

The healthcare industry faces a staffing crisis, from patient-facing roles to technical positions. Burnout among healthcare workers was at a crisis level before the pandemic, and two years of dealing with COVID-19 drove burnout rates even higher. A global report reveals 47% of healthcare workers plan to leave the field by 2025. In light of these statistics, personnel shortages currently rank as hospital CEOs’ top concern, ahead of financial challenges.

In March 2022, 29% of U.S. nurses reported they would likely leave their patient care role within the next year, and McKinsey estimates a shortage of 200,000 to 450,000 nurses by 2025. The situation in clinical engineering departments is equally troubling—22% of clinical engineering technicians are nearing retirement. Between retirements and increasing demand, health systems will need 5,000 new technicians over the next three years, but fewer than 400 graduate from college and enter the workforce each year.

The lack of qualified staff at the bedside and in the clinical engineering department poses a significant threat to patient safety. Improved workflow, benefits, psychological safety,  employee support, and a culture of belonging are crucial factors in increasing job satisfaction and engagement, eliminating burnout, increasing employee retention, and improving patient care.

Sources of burnout

Patient-facing staff and clinical engineering technicians face many of the same challenges. Providing patient care and maintaining medical devices is demanding by nature, and adding higher patient volume, pandemic stresses, and a lack of staffing creates an even heavier workload. Inefficient or unclear workflows increase the time required for tasks and can cause additional frustration. Workers are 70% more likely to experience burnout if they feel they do not have enough time to complete their work. Increasing responsibilities and the urgent nature of health care can lead to a work-life imbalance, another significant contributor to burnout.

Healthcare associates report increased menial and administrative tasks due to low staffing, which translates to less time spent doing meaningful work like providing patient care and repairing crucial medical equipment. A sense of purpose is a factor in job satisfaction. In the case of nurses, about 60% cited meaningful work as a reason to stay in their position.

3 ways to address burnout

Improving workflow, enabling career satisfaction, and providing personal support can improve employee engagement and minimize turnover, leading to enhanced patient care.

  1. Workflow improvements

Streamlining workflow eliminates tedious and administrative tasks and allows more time for critical work directly impacting patients. This helps both patients and staff. Patients receive more bedside care, medical devices are working and ready to use, and nurses & clinical engineers receive the satisfaction associated with meaningful work.

The right software and technology create opportunities to streamline administrative tasks and processes. In clinical engineering management, software can manage work orders, automate parts ordering, and navigate supply chains. Tech tools help nurses update patient charts, check vital signs, and maintain medication schedules with less hassle.

Managing, monitoring, and repairing medical devices is complicated and time-consuming. Clinical asset management technology can make workflows more efficient for both engineering technicians and clinicians by setting standard procedures and schedules for repair and maintenance and providing visibility into device location and status.

For example, mobile medical equipment management programs can:

  • Minimize nurse time spent searching for and cleaning medical equipment. The average nurse spends about 45 minutes per shift on these tasks. A management program cuts that time to five minutes.
  • Improve device usage and cleanliness. Without a standard process, up to 40% of mobile medical devices fail objective cleanliness testing between patient uses.
  • Save money. By keeping track of total inventory and maintaining devices, health systems can maximize the value of their current investments and prevent unnecessary rentals and purchases. The extra savings can be allocated to other expenses, and removing the need to maintain unnecessary equipment lightens technicians’ workloads.
  • Increase nursing satisfaction scores by 50% by eliminating administrative tasks and increasing the time available for patient care.
  1. Career and growth opportunities

Education, development, and advancement options are imperative—29% of workers in all industries report wanting to quit due to a lack of growth opportunities. Staff need and want training as technology and medical practices evolve. Many nurses report being uncertain about having enough advanced skills, and members of the clinical engineering department face increased pressure to keep up with cybersecurity. Education helps nurses and technicians do their current jobs better and sets them up to advance their careers. This is especially important for technicians, as many do not have a clear career path.

These initiatives develop associates professionally and personally as well as improve employee retention and skills:

  • Mentorship programs
  • Courses on the latest technology and medical practice developments
  • Leadership preparation tracks
  • Cross-training
  • Outreach and apprenticeship programs to build a talent pipeline
  1. Organizational support

Healthcare workers have personal needs in addition to professional ones. Nursing staff and clinical engineering departments can feel overlooked, despite being critical to operations. Fostering a culture that recognizes staff contributions demonstrates that the organization values associates and their work and creates an environment of psychological safety, which is critical.

Opportunities for input and feedback show staff that their perspectives and opinions are important and empower them to improve their work environment. 40% of nurses said improved and expanded communication with leadership would boost satisfaction. Recognition is also crucial. Whether it’s a raise, promotion, an opportunity to participate on a project, engagement with leadership, or a simple public acknowledgment, the action generates positive feelings and shows the associate that they contribute to quality patient care.

Leaders should encourage activities and policies that improve mental health, overall wellbeing, and work-life balance and create a sense of belonging. Examples include offering greater flexibility with shift hours and vacation time and appreciating unique perspectives.

Retaining nurses and clinical engineering technicians is more critical than ever. Decreasing workloads and improving work processes result in increased job satisfaction, but truly engaging healthcare staff requires providing for personal needs like career advancement and work-life balance. The healthcare system is interdependent. Efforts to support and encourage staff benefit the associate, their coworkers, the organization, and patients. Reducing turnover, encouraging nurse & technician engagement, and eliminating administrative work improve patient safety and care.

Editor’s Note: Kristi McDermott serves as president of clinical engineering for TRIMEDX, leading the growth in commercial operations as well as the service in our clinical engineering field operations. Kristi has been in the healthcare industry for almost 30 years, and in the healthcare technologies space for more than 10 years. Previously, Kristi served as vice president of growth and vice president of field operations for Aramark Healthcare Technologies. She has served in numerous operations roles, including account manager and district manager, before becoming vice president of compliance for the Aramark Healthcare division, driving compliance initiatives across the corporation

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