INDIANAPOLIS — Across the country, nurses held marches Thursday to draw attention to staffing shortages and worsening working conditions.

Nurses from across Indiana participated by marching through downtown Indianapolis to the Indiana Statehouse. The group said some of the biggest issues they’re facing are staffing and safety.

“There is a nursing shortage,” nurse Tishelle Heckman said. “There is not enough of us.”

Heckman has left not one, but two nursing jobs in the past two years. She said her previous employers always had her stretched thin and taking care of too many sick patients.

“My nursing license is everything to me, and I wasn’t willing to have a patient die and be my fault, so I left,” Heckman said.

Recent nursing graduate Tiffany Brown said she’s worried about staffing and safety as she begins her new career.

“We are not punching bags,” Brown said. “We are there to care for you, and a lot of times us as nurses get the brunt end to of it.”

Heckman echoed that sentiment.

“You’re dealing more with patients who are violent or patients who could hurt you or patients that could hurt each other,” Heckman said.

The nurses in attendance said those issues are contributing to a growing nursing shortage across the country. As of February, Indiana has roughly 4,000 open nursing positions.

Demand from the pandemic has settled, but those positions still need filled.

“It does place that fear inside, like will there being enough staffing on my unit once I get there?” Brown pondered. “What does that look like for me in 10 years?”

The Indiana legislature passed a bill earlier this year that eases restrictions on nursing schools. However, the nurses want to see more support, more staff and better pay.

If hospitals won’t take it upon themselves to do it, the nurses hope lawmakers in Washington will.

“We want to get our voices out there. We want to be heard,” Brown said.

Local hospital systems are feeling the nursing shortage. Community Health Network said it has 5,000 nurses across its system and 600 open positions.

“We recently hired over a hundred recent nursing graduates; and through community and school partnerships we are creating our own pipeline,” a Community spokesperson said in a statement. “We continue to work with our state legislature to increase faculty and expand capabilities at nursing schools.”

Eskenazi Health said it’s hired 225 nurses since the beginning of the year with a majority being recent graduates.

At IU Health, a spokesperson said they’re working to hire 1,400 nurses and are offering bonuses for some positions.

“While there is a national nursing shortage, IU Health has made recruiting and retaining nurses a priority,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “IU Health has invested in expanding the nursing programs at Ivy Tech and Indiana University to help address the shortage.”

Ascension St. Vincent declined to comment for this story.