OPINION: Solutions for Alaska's nurse shortage

The recent column by the Anchorage Daily News editorial board on the issue of nurse shortages, escalating health care costs and the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), has drawn deep concern from the Alaska Nurses Association.

For more than 70 years, the Alaska Nurses Association has led the way for Alaska’s nurses, shaping the practice of nursing and setting high professional standards. The association was surprised and disappointed that the ADN did not reach out to them on these crucial matters, given their well-established collective understanding of the challenges faced by nurses and the health care system in Alaska.

Alaska, like the rest of the nation, grapples with a severe nursing shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The causes of this shortage are numerous and complex. Decades of understaffing, worsening working conditions and the unprecedented burdens imposed on nurses during the pandemic have led to a significant exodus from the profession. Compounding this is the inadequate capacity of nursing schools to produce graduates, owing to a shortage of qualified educators and insufficient investment in nursing workforce development. Those who do enter the workforce often find themselves unprepared for the demanding realities of bedside care.

Nurses endure overwhelming workloads, often sacrificing breaks and facing heightened stress levels. Patients, confronted with prolonged hospital stays and complex medical needs, experience dissatisfaction, which too often manifests as frustration or violence directed toward nurses. These challenges are extensively documented, and it is clear that the NLC is not a viable solution to our nursing shortage. The compact has not alleviated the nursing shortage in other states; U.S. Department of Health data shows that from January 2020 to August 2023, compact states experienced a higher percentage of critical staffing shortage days than non-compact states.

Instead, the focus must be on significantly improving working conditions, ensuring high professional standards, and retention and workforce development strategies. The nurse staffing crisis can be solved by cultivating supportive work environments, fostering collaboration among nurses and hospitals, and prioritizing robust mentorship and education programs to nurture nurses’ professional growth and job satisfaction. By working together to address the root causes of the shortage, we can preserve and fortify Alaska’s nursing workforce and provide the high-quality care that Alaskans deserve.

Shannon Davenport is president of the Alaska Nurses Association, and Jane Erickson serves as past president. Together, they have more than 50 years of combined experience working as nurses in Alaska and are passionate advocates for their profession.

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