The latest reports from the Federal Ministry of Health in 2022 paint a worrying picture of the shortage of geriatric nurses in Germany. This shortage is a worrying reality that is keenly felt by healthcare workers, patients and their families. The lack of human, financial and time resources has had a significant impact on the country’s healthcare services. There is currently a shortage of 156,000 geriatric nurses, resulting in an undersupply of care and a significant strain on the existing nursing workforce.
Bleak forecasts for the development of the geriatric nursing workforce suggest that there could be a shortage of up to half a million nurses in the next ten years.
Moritz (24) shares his experiences, challenges and visions for the future as a young male geriatric nurse and how the nursing shortage manifests itself in his daily life.
Why did you choose a career as a geriatric nurse?
“I wanted a fulfilling career that involved helping people. After trying nursing, I quickly realised how grateful I was and how much it suited me. It gives me great pleasure to help patients feel better, whether it’s through wound healing, pain relief or an improvement in their general condition.”
You now work in mobile geriatric care rather than in a nursing home. Why did you make this change?
“During my three years of training in stationary nursing, I realised that nursing homes are places where many people are unhappy. Patients’ families are often faced with high costs and the workload is difficult to manage.
In mobile care, I can go directly to people’s homes, give them help and make them happy. I experience again and again the beauty of working in geriatric care.”
What is a typical working day like for you?
“My working day usually starts with the early shift, which requires me to be in the office by 6.30 am. So I wake up at 5am to cover my half-hour commute. When I get to the office, I plan the rounds, check the patient handover protocols and organise the necessary materials before I cycle to the patients.
My early shift usually finishes around 12 am; for the late shift, I start at 3pm and work until 8pm.”
What are the main benefits for the patient of being cared for in their own home?
“Patients can remain in a familiar environment, both physically and socially. Often friends and relatives live nearby, providing a stable social network.
In addition, many people wish to die in their familiar surroundings. Nursing homes often face many conflicts when, after years of independence, one suddenly has to share space with another person who is often seriously ill. It is therefore crucial to have reliable and professional support to deal with such situations.”
What challenges do you face when caring for people in their own homes?
“A major challenge is that households often have different standards of hygiene. In Germany, the ‘right to neglect’ makes regulated home care difficult, as residents cannot be told how tidy their homes should be. Although I can help patients to engage domestic help, I cannot dictate the environment in which they live.
Many people have lived in the same environment for a long time and are reluctant to change their habits, even if it affects hygiene.”
Do you find it difficult to build relationships with your patients?
“I work in northern Germany, where most people are very reserved. It often takes a long time before they really open up to me.
While small talk can reveal common interests, in my experience the real relationship building takes at least three months. By then, patients understand that I am reliable, competent and really trustworthy.
However, some patients prefer not to have close contact with their nurse. They prefer a professional approach, which I understand and respect very well.”
What is it like for you to work in a predominantly female profession? Have you faced any experiences or challenges due to this gender and age gap in your work environment?
“In my workplace there are 12 nursing staff and 20 housekeeping and support staff. The facility has been in existence for 32 years and I am the first male to work in geriatric care.
Being surrounded by mostly strong women, both in my family and in my professional life, is an interesting dynamic for me. Despite these differences, our work is evaluated based on performance and not gender, which creates a positive and fair working environment that is equally valued by me and my female colleagues.”
What challenges have you faced in your work in geriatric nursing?
“There are often critical situations that affect the health of patients. Thanks to my training, I always know what to do in such cases.
However, the ongoing shortage of nurses weighs heavily on me: Overwork due to absent colleagues leads to double shifts, which results in less time for individual care. The ongoing staff shortage is more stressful for me than the pandemic. There is no improvement in sight as the nursing shortage continues.”
Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, is aware of the situation. “We need to improve working conditions in the care sector,” he says. He is proposing a number of measures and bills to ease the burden on nurses and tackle the nursing shortage. It remains to be seen when these proposals will be implemented.
But what does Moritz want for the future of care?
What changes or developments would you like to see in mobile care to make your work easier or better?
“I think the exploitation of the elderly and sick for profit is inappropriate, as is the privatisation of the German healthcare system. It is important to protect vulnerable groups, so I think nationalisation of the health system would be beneficial.
Territorial care concepts could be a sensible solution by allocating specific care services to each neighbourhood to avoid inefficient routes.
Caring professions deserve more recognition and fair remuneration to attract motivated and qualified people, including those with higher education, who value the crucial work in our society. At the same time, early retirement and appropriate social recognition should underline the importance of the care professions in our society.”
You can watch the daily life of a geriatric nurse here.