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'Stress, burnout' | A look at the national nursing shortage impacting Virginia

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects 194,500 nursing openings a year until 2030. Overall, the industry is expected to grow.

NORFOLK, Va. — As if dealing with life or death isn’t enough pressure, try it after stepping into Karen Proffitt's shoes.

"They were like, 'Are you sure you want to be here?' I’m like “Yes! I need to take care of you,'" Proffitt laughed, a registered nurse and United Coordinator at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk.

Proffitt, who is originally from the Philippines, loves taking care of people. So much so, she worked on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic while pregnant with twins. 

“Last year I was pregnant doing bedside care, so I was in the isolation room putting on personal protective equipment and everything," Proffitt told 13News Now. 

It's only a small sign of her resiliency, which is nothing new for nurses. Especially now, when there are fewer left in the industry, as nurses everywhere across the country -- including Hampton Roads -- are working through a nursing shortage. 

Until the year 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects nursing employment to grow by 9%. But that still takes into account almost 200,000 nursing employment openings on a yearly basis. 

A common trend in the health care industry is that nurses from the Baby Boomer generation have gradually aged out of the profession, which created shortages only exacerbated by the pandemic's toll. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of nurses didn’t leave their jobs because of the uncertainty,” said Karen Mitchell, chief nursing officer at the Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters. “We feel these increase in resignations and transfers are due to a backlog from mid-2020.”

For those nurses who are left, the shortage has also created more difficult working conditions. 

"Stress, burnout, it's challenged the typical resiliency we’ve had in the past," Mitchell said. She said sometimes even managers and directors have to work roles they're not normally supposed to, to make up the difference. 

"When you have the managers and directors in staffing, they’re not able to do the job they’re supposed to be doing," she explained.

This September, the Virginia Nurses Association held a virtual press conference highlighting the burnout nurses across the commonwealth are feeling, while pushing to get more people vaccinated and ease the burden on overloaded healthcare staff. 

“The pandemic has really prompted many more nurses to resign, seek positions outside of frontline care," said Janet Wall, chief executive officer for the VNA.

According to recent a recent VNA survey, four of every 10 nurses in Virginia are thinking about leaving the bedside to go somewhere else.

“Four in ten, that could mean a different area of the hospital, a small practice, or leaving nursing altogether," said Wall, who also mentioned a greater number of registered nurses versus employed nurses in Virginia, a sign that not all of those eligible to work are currently practicing. 

“When the pandemic goes away, we will still have a nursing shortage," Wall said. 

Leaving the nurses that are left, like Proffitt, to make the most of who’s left.  

“It’s challenging," Proffitt said, "but it’s why I love being a nurse."