A Charles Sturt University academic says nurses are stressed and anxious, after the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and drawn attention to the shortage of nurses world wide.
Associate professor of nursing Judith Anderson, who has recently been conducting research into the area, said the was a global nurse shortage, even before COVID-19, but the virus amplified the problem.
Ms Anderson said nurses were "terribly stressed".
"There was a workforce shortage before hand and then to have all this additional work put on top of them, it's really made a huge impact," she said.
"The majority of the stress is about the anxiety it causes when you're basically put on the front line where you may be exposed to COVID-19.
"The fact that you might catch it, you might bring it home to your family or you might give it to some of those other patients, that are immunocompromised.
"That idea that we could in some way be infecting other people is a really big stress factor for these nurses, that's the main issue."
Ms Anderson said isolation requirements was another stress factor for nurses and particularly for small specialty unit like intensive care nurses, which typically didn't need huge numbers of staff, were put under enormous pressure..
"For a whole shift to go off sick and be unavailable for the next week can impact on the staffing quite dramatically," she said.
"So double shift and overtime and things like that then make people more vulnerable."
Ms Anderson said the under staffing issue in regional areas was already worse than in cities, but had worsened again since COVID-19.
"If you had issues attracting staff to these areas before hand then you're going to have issues back filling anyone that's off sick," she said.
"Not to mention some of these small hospitals did have minimal staffing on, at any one time before hand anyway.
There was a workforce shortage before hand and then to have all this additional work put on top of them, it's really made a huge impact.- Judith Anderson
"So they may well have only had one or two people on shift usually in terms of nurses, so for those people to then be unavailable for the next week or two makes a significant impact."
Ms Anderson said Australia initially escaped the worst of the impacts of COVID-19, so had more opportunity to prepare.
"A lot of other countries have suffered a lot worse than we have and in some ways you would have hoped that we could have learned from that, wouldn't you, and prevented some of this from happening locally, since we're a bit late to having all this stress lumped on us," she said.
"It's just really sad that there was a shortage of nurses before, world wide and nothing was done about that.
"Instead of that, we've gone into this pandemic stage and we still haven't increased the amount of nurses we've got.
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"How does the existing workload cope with the amount of work coming from this?"
When asked if these workplace stresses would deter future students from pursuing a career in nursing, Ms Anderson said she's already observed high levels of stress in nursing students.
"The students that we're sending out are suffering the same sort of stresses," she said.
"They also have families and homes that they don't want to bring the virus back to and infect them."
Ms Anderson said Charles Sturt University was also having issues finding clinical placements for its nursing students.
"The hospitals are so stressed and so strained that they cant really take students on board," she said.
"That adds to the delay in getting students through, so they've been cancelling clinical placements and things like that.
"It's very stressful for students as well and makes them wonder why they want to do it."
Ms Anderson said students were often required to travel long distances for placements, which was an issue during lockdowns.
"And the fact that they also have to work to pay their bills, so if they do get an infection while they're on placement then that puts them out of being able to earn money while they're actually studying," she said.
"For a lot of students they cut back on the amount of work they do and they have limited incomes, because they are studying, so they need to devote time to that, so it can really deplete them."
Ms Anderson called for more action to increase the number of nurses.
"The first thing we've got to do is keep the nurses we've got," she said.
"That's the most important thing to make them feel valued and also to hopefully get some more in.
"One of the strategies that has been used in the past is to recruit them from overseas, but that's not really an ethical option when those countries are also understaffed."
Ms Anderson suggest having more nursing scholarships and training facilities would help attract and retain new nurses.
She also said nurses should be paid more.
"They're putting their life at risk," she said.
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