The Boston Globe ran this story today on the subject.
Nurses alienated by job stresses, lures from related fields
By Diane E. Lewis, Globe Staff, 9/15/02
For as long as she could remember, LaTanya Robinson, 23, of Dorchester,
wanted to be a nurse. ''There is something about taking care of people when
they are sick that has always interested me,'' said Robinson. ''It makes me feel
as if I am helping or doing something good.''
But after graduating from the University of
Massachusetts at Boston last December with a
bachelor's degree in nursing, she began worrying
about the long hours, the heavy patient loads,
and the stress -- byproducts of a critical nursing
shortage that shows no signs of easing.
At one point, Robinson contemplated not taking
her board certification exam and continuing her
current job as a nurses' aide until she explored
other career options more thoroughly. She has
since changed her mind, and plans to take her
nursing boards in a few weeks.
Increasingly, new nurses like Robinson are casting
a more critical eye on the profession, and they are
beginning to leave the field in higher numbers,
reports Julie Sochalski, an associate professor at
the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
She says the trend could pose long-term problems
for hospitals and clinics across the country.
''We know the nation is facing a shortfall of
nurses,'' said Sochalski, ''but if new registered
nurses are leaving the profession after only a few
years, the shortage is likely to reach crisis
proportions sooner rather than later.''
Ernst & Young reports that nursing shortages at
hospitals and clinics will exceed 500,000 positions
by the year 2020. This trend is expected to
coincide with growing demand in the
biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device
industries for professionals with medical or health
care experience, according to the management
consulting firm. In the pharmaceutical industry,
demand for nurses and other health care
professionals will increase 35 percent in the next
decade alone, according to data from the Bureau
of Labor Statistics.
Sochalski's research reveals that new male nurses
are leaving the profession at a higher rate than young women. Her study
analyzes and compares survey data collected from 36,000 nurses by the US
Department of Health and Human Services in 1992, 1996, and 2000. It shows
that by 2000 7.5 percent of new male nurses left the profession within four
years of graduating from nursing school, up from 2 percent in 1992. By contrast,
4.1 percent of young women in the field left the profession within four years of
leaving nursing school, up from 2.7 percent in 1992.
''New nurses begin their careers with higher levels of job satisfaction, but the
workplace itself seems to be convincing growing numbers to leave the bedside
earlier in their careers for other professions,'' said Sochalski.
In Massachusetts, the demand for skilled nurses began increasing after
hospitals reduced costs in the 1990s and laid off highly paid nursing specialists,
reports Judith Shindul-Rothschild, a professor of nursing at Boston College.
With the aging of the patient population, hospitals experienced new stresses.
Meanwhile, the median age of nurses rose, resulting in more retirements. At
the same time, fewer replacement nurses were graduated. The problem
worsened when applications to nursing schools fell 5 percent by the end of the
Asked where younger nurses are going, Sochalski said: ''We know, anecdotally,
that pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, health insurance, and
managed care firms are very interested in nurses.''
That doesn't surprise Sherry Hayes, director of the Center for Industry Change
at Ernst & Young in Washington, D.C. She estimates that demand in the
bio-pharma industry for professionals and supervisors with health care or
nursing backgrounds is expected to increase 17 percent over the next decade,
and 14 percent in the medical device industry alone.
''Increasingly, it will be important for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries
to have people who not only know the sciences, but also understand how
health care is delivered,'' said Hayes. ''We are also seeing that job satisfaction
among doctors and nurses has waned because of managed care. They've
become wrapped up in a highly regulated environment. For many of these
individuals, biotechnology offers an entrepreneurial and creative environment
that is more flexible.''
When Sochalski examined the federal data she had collected, she discovered
that close to 136,000 licensed nurses in the United States are currently working
in other jobs. Of those, 45 percent had switched to health-related professions
such as clinical research, safety management, drug marketing, or project
management within the health research field. In all, there are 2.7 million US
Shindul-Rothschild, who has mentored several nursing students at Boston
College, recalled a young woman who quit a hectic job at a busy health center
18 months after she graduated.
''She completed her night shift and was waiting for me when I got in,'' said
Shindul-Rothschild. ''A child had literally died in her arms and she was very
upset. She also felt helpless.... She shifted gears and used her nursing skills to
get involved in research and started working for a pharmaceutical.''
The trend is also being watched by Texas-based allied health care staffing firm
Martin, Fletcher. The company helps hospitals and health care institutions
recruit doctors, pharmacists, nurses, anesthesiologists, and other health
''We are seeing a lot of movement in the nursing field in terms of biomedical
work and even legal nursing,'' said Jody Talbert, vice president of marketing. ''At
hospitals we are seeing salaries that range from $18 to $25 per hour, or
between $35,000 and $47,000 per year, for beginning nurses. But some
nurses, working weekends and late night shifts, are making as much as
$70,000 per year.''
Faced with such intense demand, hospitals are fighting back, he said. Some
have joined nurses in pushing for funding of the Nurse Reinvestment Act, which
provides federal funds for education, including scholarships
, geriatric training,
and other grants to improve career ladder programs.
Many hospitals are also offering sign-on bonuses ranging from $5,000 to as
much as $50,000, with a commitment of three to five years. About 85 percent of
all US hospitals now offer sign-on bonuses, up from 50 to 60 percent five years
ago, said Talbert.
''In Massachusetts, the average sign-on bonus, with a two-year commitment, is
$5,000 to $10,000,'' he added. He said nurses with bachelor's or master's
degrees are making $75,000 to $80,000 per year in private industry, with the
added benefit of such perks as company cars.
Despite the obstacles, LaTanya Robinson has decided to pursue her dream.
She's hoping to land a position as a registered nurse after she receives board
''A lot of hospitals offered jobs,'' she said. ''I think all hospitals are going
through the same thing right now, but I don't want to be too stressed --
wherever I go.''
Diane E. Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org