By Carrie Mortrud, RN
Did you see the article in the New Yorker? If not, I encourage you to read it and respond here. Here’s the link. In summary, it pretty much says the US is heading into a “dire” need for nurses, but we can attract more nurses if we give them more respect, money and more training. That’s where the real problem is. Do you think there is a nursing shortage or do you believe most nurses chose to not work more because of working conditions which perpetuates career dissatisfaction? As a nurse who left bedside care that I loved because my working conditions, I believe the real a nursing shortage comes from us being discouraged and dissatisfied that we reject working more. How many of you can relate to the following?
1) How often do you argue with bed manufacturers or bed companies on your patients’ behalf for that specialty bed their skin needs?
2) How often to you chase physicians down (either physically or via phone or text) to get the anti-anxiety medication or to change the pain medication because the current one isn’t providing proper relief?
3) How often do you spend a majority of your patient care time on the phone trying to locate your patient’s belongings or calling materials to get the right IV fluid you are out of on the cart?
4) How many times to you go on a scavenger hunt for equipment like the right size BP cuff, the oximeter, the thermometer, an IV pole, a PCA pump?
5) How many minutes to you think you spend prepping your comments and questions for that one physician and stressing out about being in the right place when she shows up on the unit, only to be elbow deep in linens and a bed bath for a patient that was only supposed to be a “quick boost in bed”?
6) how many times a week do you find yourself challenging an admission or transfer or discharge because it’s not appropriate?
I could go on and on, but you get the point. While doing these things are advocating for the patient, which is a major portion of our role as nurses, these are the things that frustrated me because it really did take me away from my patient. It kept me in the hall on the phone or on the computer and away from teaching my patient about his open heart surgery, caring for my patient who has never been in the hospital and is terrified of the tests and procedures being recommended, consoling my patients family members when surgery did not go as well as we had hoped?
I firmly believe that there are many, many, many nurses who would be happy to increase their work agreements 20 to 40 percent if working conditions were better. I’m well aware many nurses chose nursing for its flexibility in work agreements, hours, shifts etc. Still, so many nurses are so disillusioned once they begin to practice, they opt for the least amount of hours but enough to pay the bills. They simply don’t have motivation or will to want to do more because every day they leave knowing they could have done better and should have but couldn’t because they are set up to fail by a system focused more on cost cutting rather than safe quality care.
There’s a big difference between a nursing shortage and a staffing shortage. Borrowed from the Minnesota Nurses Association’s Nurse Practice Department..
“Staffing Shortage is an insufficient number, mix,and/or experience level of RNs and ancillary staff to safely care for the individual and aggregate needs of a specific patient population over a specified period of time. Nursing Shortage is when the demand and need for RN services is greater than the supply of RNs who are qualified, available and willing to do the work.”
As evidenced by this definition, we may very well have the supply necessary to care for our population but they are unwilling to do the work because the system they work for does not support the right number of nurses, the right mix of education of nurses, the right number of support staff for the work to safely provide quality care.
If you have left bedside care, reduced your FTE or chosen not to increase your hours after family situations allow, because of any or all of these reasons, I would love to hear your story.