Nursing: a humanistic profession – P.S.: reader commentary
Nursing is humanistic profession. We nurses care and do our very best to save lives and if we can’t, we provide dignity until the moment of death arrives. We face ethical dilemmas daily–it is a calling. James VanOosting shared in the November/December 2002 Humanist that he died twice but is alive to tell us about it. He is fortunate that he went to a hospital that had enough adequately trained nurses and physicians to save him both times. I read with interest and compassion his story in “First Person” and thought about the current condition of nursing and medicine in the United States. So I want to share the nurse’s side of the story and explain why so many are walking away.
The October 2002 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports results of a research study conducted in Pennsylvania by a group of nurse scholars and a physician. The report concludes that the greater number of patients a registered nurse had to care for in a hospital setting, the greater the risk of death for the patients in her or his care. Physicians also agree that a heavy patient load for the nurse decreases the quality of care that can be provided. Nurses are on duty in the hospital twenty-four hours a day and doctors aren’t always around. Nurses are the eyes and ears monitoring the patient’s state of health and being and must intervene appropriately when a patient’s condition worsens. The more swiftly this can occur, the better the chance a patient will survive a crisis.
The Pennsylvania research is troubling and is compounded by the fact that the number of registered nurses who are working is declining at an alarming rate while the average age of Americans continues to climb. The need for health care services for this population will increase dramatically in the next decade and beyond, especially as members of the baby boomer generation become consumers.
The average age of a registered nurse in the year 2000 was forty-four years old. Registered Nurses (RNs) under the age of thirty account for only 12 percent of the entire nursing workforce. Finally, one-fifth of RNs plan to leave the profession in the next five years while enrollment into nursing programs has decreased about 15 percent in the past decade according to the 2002 Journal of Nursing Administration. There are fewer young nurses to take over as college students choose other career paths that offer better compensation and pension, work hours, and workload. This loss will, and already is, jeopardizing the care hospitalized patients receive. This isn’t an apparent issue to the average consumer until it impacts their life or that of a loved one.
California is the only state to date that has passed legislation that requires hospitals to establish consistent nurse-to-patient ratios to ensure safety for the patient and to increase the amount of time a nurse may spend with each patient. This legislation may also receive the added benefit of increased career satisfaction for nurses by decreasing their workload and enticing potential new recruits. The mandate will take effect in July 2003. This type of legislation should serve as a model to other states that could curb the shortage of nurses and lure those nurses who are inactive back into the profession.
Nurses who are walking away from the patients still care about humanity. They can’t, however, bear the burden of not providing the best care possible for patients when they are sick.
Lori A. Przymusinski RN, BSN, has been a professional nurse since 1983 and is currently a graduate student in nursing administration at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan. She has been published statewide in Michigan Nurseweek and in hospital newsletters.
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