MADISON, Wis. — A Madison company is on a mission to transform nursing and help close gaps in the nursing shortage.

What You Need To Know

  • The Wisconsin Hospital Association said the nursing shortage is at "the tipping point" 

  • Bre Loughlin started Nurse Disrupted in 2020 

  • The platform allows nurses to work from home to do certain tasks 

  • It's bringing some nurses back to the workforce and supporting their mental health 

Bre Loughlin said she loves being a nurse. It was always something that had fulfilled her. Then, one day in 2006, something she’d buried came to the surface.

“There was a day where I drove up to the hospital I worked for, I was in the parking lot, and I couldn’t open the door,” she said. “I burned out … but we didn’t talk about burnout then.”

The nursing profession is in turmoil. Nurses were exhausted before COVID-19 hit. Then, they were dealing with an unprecedented workload, a shortage of personal protective equipment, a scary virus and people denying medical information.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association said the nursing shortage has reached a tipping point. Nursing position vacancy rates are the highest they’ve been since at least 2005, when it first started collecting the data. The WHA said in its report that usually, one in ten nurses change jobs every year. Now, that’s closer to one in five.

“You have days where people, gosh, they need so much,” Loughlin said, her voice cracking and eyes welling up. “They’re sick, and you’re going from call light to call light. And [there are] days without even taking a bathroom break, and without ever eating. You could not give the patients everything that they needed.”

Loughlin started Nurse Disrupted in 2020. It started out by giving virtual medical screenings to people at shelters. It has evolved and added a new mission: to help combat the nursing shortage.

“Nurses have said [they] need three things. One, reasonable workloads. The work that we do, we have to be able to physically do,” Loughlin said. “The second thing that nurses have asked for is flexible schedules. Nurses typically work technically a 12-hour shift, you wind up with a half an hour commute, and you end up being there for 14 hours … and the third one is an innovative career pathway. We’re scientists, we’re not servants.”

Virtual health care is booming right now. The nursing platform allows nurses to work shorter shifts from home. They mainly complete tasks that don’t require an in-person presence, like conversations about patient discharge. They wouldn’t be taking a patient’s vitals, but they would be having discussions with them and their support system through a tablet on wheels.

They have access to the patient’s chart, so they are reading current notes and adding notes of their own. It gives nurses the kind of flexible work hours that have, until now, been impossible.

Loughlin said it starts with the nurses already working for the hospital system. She said when surveyed, 85% of them reported that they would take a 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift from home once per week. With that extra pay and flexibility, the system can attract even more nurses.

“We have nurses who have left the hospitals calling the unit manager saying ‘if you’re going to practice in this way, if this is the opportunity, I’m going to come back,’” she said.

Nurse Disrupted is now used in three hospital systems across the country, and for practicum hours in nine nursing schools across Wisconsin.

“We’ve had over 400 nurses now using our platform, over 50,000 visits,” Loughlin said.

She said all this work has been worth it.

“If I wanted to make money, I would have stayed at my safe, big corporate job. I’m here to make history. I’m here to transform nursing,” Loughlin said. “I believe that there can be a better today and a different pathway for tomorrow.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Bre Loughlin's last name. This error has been corrected. (April 15, 2024)