By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

A renewed interest in nursing drove education program applications higher, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted student progress, while current staff are growing weary over ongoing problems with working conditions and pay, according to a new policy brief from the International Council of Nurses (ICN).

In December, ICN polled its member National Nursing Associations (NNAs) around the globe. Of 64 responses, 73% reported disruptions in nurse education, 54% reported delays in postgraduate activities, 57% said there were graduation delays, and 46% indicated cancelations or delays in clinical assignments.

However, 30% of respondents said there was an increase in applicants to nurse training programs, and 57% still reported an overall positive effect on education. Because of the limits on in-person learning during the global health emergency, students and teachers discovered the benefits of online learning modules and virtual simulation.

“Nurses have had a terrible year, but perhaps for the first time ever, the public has seen in detail the traumas they have faced and the effects these have had on nurses’ health and wellbeing. But despite the hardships … many people have realized the importance and true value of nursing and expressed a willingness to join the profession,” ICN President Annette Kennedy said in a statement.

Still, much of this positive news around renewed interest in nursing education was reported mainly in high-income nations, especially Europe. Meanwhile, more than 20% of NNA respondents expressed concern about low wages and poor working conditions, both of which are fueling staffing shortages and worry that more nurses will follow their colleagues out the door.

“There is now a chasm between the rhetoric of governments about how they value nurses and their practical responses to the challenges that nurses are facing every day. This disconnect is resulting in increasing discontent among the world’s nurses, resulting in protests and disputes that risk undermining recruitment and retention in the profession. Nursing is the foundation stone of the COVID response, but it also underpins any hope we have that our health systems will be able to be built back stronger and address the enormous and still-growing backlog of non-COVID health,” ICN CEO Howard Catton said in a statement.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and May 12 is International Nurses Day. Be sure to visit ReliasMedia.com periodically, and read the latest issues of Hospital Employee Health, for related content.