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The role life sciences plays in closing the nursing experience-complexity gap

By Lauren WoodrowSolomon BanjoCarol Boston-Fleischhauer

October 24, 2022

As our team has previously outlined, the workforce crisis has far reaching impacts on life sciences companies. But time constraints and evolving demands for evidence and support are not the only effects the growing workforce crisis will have on the life sciences industry—the experience-complexity gap is growing.

As mass retirements accelerate, there is an exodus of experience leaving organizations across the country. The ongoing exodus of clinical experience has accelerated during the pandemic as patient complexity continues its established upwards trend.

This loss of clinical and technical expertise, coupled with more complex care, poses significant challenges for novice nurses, nurse leaders, and health system executives writ large. Life sciences leaders have a role to play in closing the gap and preserving clinical quality and safety.

Q: When you think about the current state of the workforce, what do you think is most important for life sciences leaders to understand about the environment?

Carol Boston-Fleischhauer: The first thing to know is that this is not a short-term problem. Yes, we've seen staffing shortages cyclically, but this is different. There were structural workforce challenges before Covid that weren't addressed then and still haven't been addressed. The workforce is extremely battered and there are higher early retirement rates than ever before. Additionally, younger employees are seeking newly defined work-life balance and are spending less time working at a single organization.

Q: Do you see opportunities for life sciences leaders to support their health system partners?

Boston-Fleischhauer: There are two facets to current nursing challenges—one side is extremely burnt out and tired, while the other is inexperienced and not prepared to provide complex care.  I see a few places where life sciences organizations can help:

  1. Partner with academia to increase nurse readiness to practice: Life sciences companies can start supporting future nurses before they even enter the clinical setting. The younger workforce is particularly nimble with technology, but the academic institutions often don't have the bandwidth to teach students the technologies that they will encounter in practice. Teaching students how to use existing and emerging technologies could cut down on onboarding time while getting nurses comfortable with the tools and techniques to deliver patient care.
  2. Create clinical user guides to ensure product is used safely, efficiently, and effectively: Oftentimes novice clinicians look to an experienced nurse to teach them how to use a certain device. That experienced clinician eventually ages out of the workforce and retires, and the novice must figure out the piece of equipment, product, or procedure on their own. There is also significant variability in the degree to which that institutional knowledge is recorded and accessible outside of the experienced nurse. In addition to guides for IT or equipment managers, life sciences companies can create practical and digestible resources to provide nurses with necessary information.
  3. Implement life sciences lead trainings: Life sciences companies have a responsibility to ensure their product is used as safely, efficiently, and effectively as possible. As the experience-complexity gap widens, the weight of that responsibility will grow. Implementing more robust product trainings could be one solution. These training can also provide an avenue for life sciences firms to understand customer challenges and how delivery models are changing and potential new pain points to address.

One example of this is Janssen's virtual reality training tool. After introducing a new blood cancer drug in the UK, Janssen realized they needed to build oncology nurse confidence around drug administration and side effect management. To do so, the organization created a virtual reality clinic simulation where nurses could practice in a low-pressure environment. The training was rolled out to 85% of target NHS nurses. 100% of targeted nurses reported that the virtual reality tool would help their clinical practice and better prepare them for treatment initiation.

Our takeaways

The experience-complexity gap isn't going anywhere soon, and to make meaningful improvements we have to think of this as a health care ecosystem challenge—not just a hospital and health system issue. We're at a point where life sciences companies will need to redefine how they collaborate with clinical organizations if they are to be true partners.

A good place to start is with an audit of existing resources that could be re-purposed to support partners, such as internal trainings curated and shared with clients. Closer relationships and more hands-on training may be the key to closing the workforce gap.

Are you collaborating with clients and partners to address the workforce crisis? We'd love to hear your stories. Email Lauren Woodrow at to share.

Hard truths on the current and future state of the nursing workforce

imageConcerns about an imbalance in supply and demand in the nursing workforce have been around for years. The number of nursing professionals nationally may be healthy, but many nurses are not in the local areas, sites of care, or roles where they're needed most. And many of today's nurses don't have the specialized skills they need, widening the existing gap between nurse experience and job complexity. As a result, gaping holes in staffing rosters, prolonged vacancies, unstable turnover rates, and unchecked use of premium labor are now common.

Health care leaders need to confront today's challenges in the nursing workforce differently than past cyclical shortages. In this report, we present six hard truths about the nursing workforce. Then, we detail tactics for how leaders can successfully address these challenges—stabilizing the nursing workforce in the short term and preparing it for the future.

Read more

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