As areas of the United States hit hardest by COVID-19 see a drop in new cases, other regions are witnessing a surge while others are possibly on track for a spike in the weeks ahead. It’s that last category where Kansas and other Midwestern states currently find themselves.
In a recent interview on Good Morning America, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that states such as Michigan, Missouri, and Kansas could quickly become coronavirus hotspots. The nation’s premier authority on infectious disease admits it’s always tricky to predict the future, but that such a spike would make sense given the reopening policies underway.
The potential for a statewide spike in coronavirus infections has hospitals and other healthcare facilities scrambling for the frontline workers needed to weather the storm. While doctors, paramedics, and technicians are among the many healthcare professionals required for such a surge, nurses are front and center in the fight against COVID-19.
The high demand for frontline workers has resulted in recent nursing school graduates going to work almost as soon as they walk off the stage. Rather than be left behind in backpacks, nursing flashcards see continued usage in the field as new RNs get thrust into service. It’s a trend expected to continue if the state sees an uptick in new coronavirus cases.
Going through a professional trial by fire right out of the gate may sound like a deterrent for pursuing a nursing career, but that’s not necessarily true. Many men and women currently enrolled in nursing school or those recently graduated are eager to help any way they can. What’s more, most recognize the relatively short-lived nature of the current pandemic. Coronavirus is unlikely to remain a significant health crisis for more than a few years at most, while a career in nursing will last for decades.
Despite so many local nursing students answering the call, Kansas will still need to attract outside talent in the event of a sudden spike in coronavirus cases. The ability to do so in the short-term will be enough to help snuff the surge, but the state may continue to struggle with a nursing shortage for years to come.
Like so many other states throughout the Midwest, Kansas is susceptible to a phenomenon known as brain drain. It goes something like this: talented people flock to a handful of places, leaving their hometowns behind in the process. The process of brain drain could prove disastrous for the Kansas healthcare system in the years to come. The highly skilled medical professionals graduating from WSU or KU are under no obligation to stick around. Life on the coast and opportunities available in major cities are understandably alluring, to the point of attracting those originating from elsewhere.
A potential spike in cases across the state will no doubt expedite the urgency to hire qualified nursing staff, and that experience should serve as a lesson going forward. The ongoing demand for highly skilled registered nurses in Kansas will likely outlast the coronavirus pandemic. What can be done to keep talented medical professionals from leaving the state?