I sent the following e-mail to the paper:
To whom it may concern:
The article, "The Private Sector: Needed -- Work environment that supports nursing
excellence", written by Rosanne Clementi Saunders raises some interesting points, but also
contributes to common and dangerous misperceptions regarding nurses. I truly do
appreciate Ms. Saunders efforts to cast nursing in a better light, however the problems with
the profession run deeper than image. If image were the problem, a good marketing
campaign would solve the issue.
The issues of inadequate numbers of staff and inadequately trained staff available,
the minimizing of the dangers of manditory overtime, lack of compensation for education
and experience, lack of adequate retention policies by health care institutions have all been
"The numbers are significant and particularly alarming, because of the shortage of
"The American Hospital Association recently announced that there are 126,000
nurse vacancies nationally and that the current nursing shortage will be long-term."
It is estimated that there are about 500,000 nurses who have LEFT the bedside due to
unsatisfactory work conditions. There is no shortage of good nurses looking for good
jobs! If we change the working conditions, benefits, and compensation we could draw
more nurses back into the field. These are nurses who are already licensed and trained.
"We will not legislate our way out of this shortage through mandates. In my opinion,
efforts to legislate staffing levels and prohibit mandatory overtime are misguided.
They do not address the root cause of the problem, which is the unattractiveness of
I would suggest that one of the reasons the profession is unattractive is unsafe staffing levels
and mandatory overtime. Just how does Rosanne feel we will solve staffing levels and the
issue of mandatory overtime without legislation? Is she assuming the hospitals would never
place their patients in an unsafe situation? If hospitals would not practice short staffing to
save money in the budget, and mandatory overtime to staff the next shift, nurses wouldn't
be seeking legislation to prevent these situations.
Many hospitals currently under staff and ask nurses to float to areas outside of their scope
of expertise when other units are busy, reinforcing the notion that "a nurse is just a nurse".
If that were so, then why is it that nurses take pride in specializing in certain areas of care?
Would you want a Labor and Delivery nurse caring for your loved one in the ICU? How
about a psych nurse resuscitating your baby in the delivery room? Can you honestly say,
"Of course, that would NEVER happen!"? Wake up. It happens.
Mandatory overtime itself is dangerous. Imagine that your nurse has just worked all night
long caring for you and her 6 other patients. Two nurses from the day shift call in sick, so
the supervisor 'mandates' that your nurse stay overtime to care for you. Do you imagine
that she will be functioning at peak proficiency?
Nurses cannot abandon their patients. If we abandon our patients and leave them in an
unsafe situation without adequate personnel to care for them, WE CAN LOSE OUR
LICENSE. The hospitals know this and threaten unemployment or loss of license by
nurses refusing to stay an extra shift on mandatory overtime.
What about if she worked a day shift and has to pick her child up from daycare by
4:00pm. Nurses have families and responsibilities outside of the job. Some employers do
not consider this fact. If you are talking about the unattractiveness of the profession, this
situation stresses the FAMILY of the nurse as well as the nurse herself. Why would a
nurse continue to work in such a situation? Would you?
"Locally, some positive steps are being taken to lift up the profession of nursing and
increase public appreciation for the role of nurses in the health care system. The
Cameos of Caring Award, initiated several years ago by the former Dean of the
University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, recognizes excellence in hospital nursing.
The recent media campaign by the UPMC Health System, which features nurses, is
another laudable effort. It acknowledges that world class health care is not achieved
without world-class nurses."
Oh, good. A certificate of achievement will make everything better.
"UPMC Health System is taking the lead in addressing this issue through its new
program that pays senior nurses up to $80,000 per year."
Bring it on! Now are they going to couple that with retirement benefits, health care benefits
during retirement, continuing education allowance, adequate RN to patient ratios,
elimination of mandatory overtime? Will the patients be cared for by well rested nurses
who are up-to-date on the current research of the specialty?
"Perhaps most important, all of our health-care institutions must strive to create a
work environment that supports nursing excellence."
Let's not be naive. The health care institutions are in the business to make money. They
are not going to change their practices unless the PUBLIC demands better. Nurses are
fighting on the picket lines and in Congress to improve the safety of the work environment
for both nurses and patients. We are not nuns who have given up all worldly possessions
and serve the public out of religious convictions. We are professionals who are highly
educated, highly skilled, and passionate about our CHOSEN profession. Pay us what we
are worth, value our education and experience, and offer retirement and health care plans
that will actually take of us when we retire after giving 30 years of SERVICE to the
public. Then, we might entice more nurses to actively practice.
(How did I do? It's the first time I have done anything like this. Hope I didn't disgrace the profession by poor English or anything.)