BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Nurses are widely considered the backbone of the U.S. healthcare system, but the COVID-19 pandemic has left them burnt out, creating a mixture of understaffing and difficult work conditions.

As hospitals in Maryland and throughout the country navigate the challenges presented by what doctors and nurses are calling a “burnout crisis,” healthcare professionals say it’s vital to come up with solutions to the growing need for a qualified workforce.

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“The pandemic really threw everything in for a loop,” said Dr. Katelyn Barley, assistant professor of nursing for Notre Dame of Maryland University. “And really, there are a lot of staff shortages where there’s not enough new graduate nurses coming out and trained to take care of patients.”

Dr. Barley acknowledged the problem began before the pandemic reached the U.S. She said she noticed she felt fatigued at times and impatient around her family.

“I noticed I was snippy with my loved ones, that I was tired and not feeling well rested even when I was sleeping,” she said.

It was for those reasons that Barley pivoted careers in 2018, trading in her duties as a full-time bedside nurse to become an assistant professor at Notre Dame, where she helps recruit aspiring nurses.

“We do, especially at Notre Dame, talk to our students about self-care,” she said. “And knowing your own barometer for stress.”

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The American Nurses Association predicts the U.S. will need an additional 1.2 million nurses next year to keep up with the growing demand for the services they provide — and to replenish the workforce as more nurses leave the profession.

“The nursing schools need to expand with more faculty and resources to get these students in clinical rotations,” Dr. Barley said.

In Baltimore, steps are already being taken to address the staffing shortage.

For instance, the University of Maryland School of Nursing has allowed students to graduate early from their programs.

Starting this month, the school plans to spend $5.1 million on recruitment of nurses and other clinical bedside graduates from community colleges throughout the region. They’re offering bonuses to offset the cost of their education.

At Notre Dame of Maryland University, the nursing school is offering an accelerated program to help students earn their nursing degrees in just 15 months.

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Time will tell if those efforts will be enough to meet the growing demand.