I have been a nurse for almost 25 years and have seen many nursing professionals come and go. Early on, pay and concerns about occupational hazards played a large role in the nursing shortage. Now, pay is relatively competitive and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration have ushered in many safe guards for health care workers.
Professional journals report there are more nurses in America than ever, but fewer are working. Why is this?
As I see it, the awesome responsibility placed on nurses is overshadowed by the lack of respect. Media often portray nurses as dumb and sexy, eagerly trying to “catch a doctor”. Doctors often perform nursing duties on television. I remember someone once saying to me, “Too bad you couldn’t be a doctor.” Many people have adopted this idea that nurses settled for the profession rather than chose it.
When people learn that I am a nurse, they often share their “dumb nurse” stories. I also hear that nurses are lazy. However, in many of those instances, the staffers being criticized aren’t nurses. Nurses usually sit down only to complete the reams of paperwork demanded by the health care system. Most nurses I know will neglect the paperwork to care for the patient. Unfortunately, these same nurses are often reprimanded by administration for the lack of documentation.
The value of caregiving is at an all-time low, whether it is at the bedside or caring for children at home. Somehow we perceive a person who passes other opportunities to care for another as weak or unmotivated. It’s no wonder that sometimes public often fails to respect nursing professionals by not recognizing their strengths, skills and abilities.
Finally, most nurses I know want to give good care but are caught on the treadmill of a health care system asking more of fewer workers caring for a sick patient population. In 1985, I may have had 10-15 patients. Some merely required observation, and some were even admitted the night before surgery. Due to advances in outpatient and home care, today’s hospitalized population has needs too advanced for home or outpatient settings. This comes at a time of managed care and fierce competition among hospital systems.
As a result, consumers are promised safe, quality care but hospitals have shortage in nurse staffing. As a result, consumers are promised safe, quality care but hospitals provide minimal staffing.
Patients are in a hospital because they need 24-hour nursing care. As a result, nursing is one of the highest budgeted departments, and sadly, one of those most likely to suffer cutbacks.
Health care today is too often a business, not a service. The name of the game is profit, and profit is by reimbursement.
What can you do to help? I encourage nursing professionals to get involved in addressing the media’s portrayal of nurses and engage the debate on health care reform. Nurses must continue to be patient advocates and educate consumers.