Published May 26, 2004
Last year I was a contributing columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. This was my first editorial. It was on nursing units all over the state the next day. (most of my other editorials have been politically conservative views.)
Nurses and doctors all over the hospital told me that they loved the editorial. (Administration told me not to write any more editorials related to hospital nursing.)
Give nurses a break
Demanding job getting harder at understaffed hospitals
By Robert --------
The good news is that life expectancy continues to increase. Medical technology is improving at an incredible rate, and despite alarmist claims, virtually everyone in the United States has access to health care. For the uninsured, a wide variety of government and private programs provide access to our health care system.
And now for the bad news: There aren't enough nurses to take care of all of the sick people.
By 2008, the government projects that there will be a shortage of 480,000 nurses nationwide. The American Hospital Association reported in 2002 an average 13 percent job vacancy rating for registered nurses in U.S. hospitals. One in 7 hospitals reported a severe nurse vacancy rate of more than 20 percent.
The average age of registered nurses is 43. Nurses are getting older -- and getting tired. Caring for the sick is rewarding, but the work has many unpleasant aspects.
During a 12-hour shift, we care for patients who are confused, incontinent, angry and, sometimes, mean. We care for people who weigh more than 350 pounds who can't or won't do anything for themselves. We care for substance abusers going through unplanned detox. We deal with body fluids and patient conditions that would send the average person to the porcelain altar. At the end of the day, we leave work physically and emotionally drained.
Many nurses are working extensive overtime to cover hospital units. I know nurses who will be taking their Christmas holiday sometime in February. Taking vacation time can be difficult on short-staffed units. Managers and even some nursing supervisors are working overtime at the bedside.
Here are some things that people need to know about nurses and hospitals:
* The nurse did not make you sick. We know that being sick isn't fun, and that being in the hospital is rough. However, being sick isn't a license to treat nurses with anger or disrespect. Work with us, and we'll do our best to help you get better.
* Nurses are not doctors. Although nurses have extensive medical knowledge, we are not allowed by law to diagnose or give a prognosis. That means that we can tell you what our experience tells us. We can teach you about disease conditions and medications. The doctor must tell you what's wrong with you and your probable outcome. If a doctor isn't cooperating or won't give a straight answer, it's not the nurses' fault.
* Nurses have more than one patient to care for. If you need a pain-killer when another patient has stopped breathing, you might have to wait a few minutes for your Tylenol.
* Nurses have what many people would consider a morbid sense of humor. It's how we deal with the stress of our work. If you overhear nurses having an off-color conversation or laughing in what the average person would consider terrible circumstances, remember what we see every day. It's how we cope. If you hear a couple of nurses discussing body fluids over lunch, politely remind them that you're not a nurse and that they're making you sick.
* Doctors' years of education and professional standing don't afford them the right to be mean to nurses. One of the roles of a physician is that of educator. If a nurse doesn't know what the doctor is talking about or what he or she wants, the doctor should use the next two minutes to teach, not to curse. And nurses don't want to call doctors in the middle of the night any more than doctors want to be called. The doctor should order what the patient needs and go back to sleep.
If you know a nurse, and most people know at least a couple of them, ask him or her these questions: Have you ever been punched or kicked by a patient? Has a patient ever thrown something at you or on you? Has a doctor ever cursed at you? How does your back feel? And the most telling question of all: Would you advise your son or daughter to become a nurse?
Most nurses love caring for sick people. It's a profession that a person truly has to be called to. But nurses are burning out from increased workloads, reams of paperwork and the ever-increasing stress that comes with caring for our aging population.
When you or your loved one is sick and in the hospital, understand who we are and where we're coming from. We really do care.
I'm impressed. Thanks for putting my own feelings into words better than I could.
That was awsome...but I can see why the hospital didn't like it... Maybe you should develop a pen name.
It is obvious why the hospital did not like this. They did not like the truth to it and it's poor public relations from their standpoint. I am with the above poster who suggested a pen name, if you wish. Truth hurts, huh?
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