Being a Nurse in the Depths of a Nursing Shortage

Here in America we are suffering from a shortage in nurses.  Patients are not the only ones affected by these shortages. Perhaps, besides the patients, nurses are the ones most affected by this current shortage.  Nurses have an incredibly important job, one that takes time, patience, care, and respect.  Attention to detail is extremely important when it comes to nursing as well. Patients require specific medications at specific times of the day. Instruction need to be followed to a ‘T’ and the smallest mix up can be life threatening. Since nurses have such an important and critical job, it’s important for them to be well rested, knowledgeable, and on top of their game at all times.

stock photo : Nurse or young woman doctor having neck and back pain problems at work. Mixed-race Asian / Caucasian female model.

There have been many studies over the past 20 years that link lower levels of nursing staff with an increase in pneumonia and patient mortality.  (http://www.ahrq.gov/research/nursestaffing/nursestaff.htm#Workload) Because of nursing shortages, current employed nurses are over worked, stressed, and mentally and physically exhausted.  This can lead to mistakes being made in medicine distribution and being less observant of patient needs and symptoms of distress.

I have been spitting out facts based on research for weeks now, but dealing with a subject so delicate, I wanted to be able to get a first-hand idea of what it’s like to be a nurse in such a demanding position.  I have a couple of good friends who work as nurses in hospitals all over the country. Some work in hospitals that are well staffed and have no problems (outside of the usual) at their jobs. While a few of my friends work for hospitals that are deep in nursing shortages.

Perhaps the one thing that stood out from each friend that I interview, was that all of them – even the ones employed at a well-staffed hospital – had the number one concern of patient safety. My friends that worked in the hospitals where there was not a nursing shortage still felt the stress to make sure they handle a patient perfectly. This meant they want to make sure they get the correct medicine at the correct time, to be able to listen to the patient’s concerns, have the ability and time to notice any significant changes that could be detrimental to the patient’s health, and to be able to correctly enter all the patients’ information into their electronic systems.

This is quite a load for one person in a twelve hour time, especially if they are juggling a large amount of patients.  Now take all these concerns and multiply them by 100. Nurses in poorly staffed hospitals have all these responsibilities, but don’t get the luxury of a couple days off during the week, or even the luxury of a normal twelve hour shift.  In fact, of my friends that I interviewed, working overtime was the hardest thing about working in a hospital with a nursing shortage. This isn’t because they don’t want to work and wish they were out having good times with their friends in family – although I’m sure that is appealing to them. Mostly they were concerned with their overtime hours because of how it affects their ability to give outstanding care to their patients. “Being mandated to stay four more hours after a twelve hour shit, totaling a sixteen hour shift due to not enough staff members causes me to be extremely tired, cranky, and at risk of making a major medication error or not being able to give my full attention to all of my patients” is what concerns my friend Cecilia the most. “I love my job and I love my patients. It’s hard for me to put on that smile and have that nurturing attitude towards a difficult patient when I’ve been running around for the past thirteen hours. I want to be able to give my full attention and love to the patient in front of me. Unfortunately, nurses are only human and whether we want it to or not, outside pressures creep into our daily routine and can cause us to make a mistake. I hold these people’s lives in my hands. They are mothers, fathers, sister, grandparents…and I am the one who is in charge of making sure they return home safe and healthy. It’s an incredible amount of pressure and it takes a great toll on my physically and mentally.”

Thankfully, as I stated a couple weeks ago, there are foundations out there working to improve the working conditions of hospital staff and also working to be able to provide education to a large number or people interested in pursuing a career in the nursing field. With a large amount of effort and time, hopefully we can begin to see this extreme nursing shortage come to an end, along with all of the trials and tribulations that go along with it.

stock photo : Nurse cares for a elderly woman lying in bed

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