Nursing shortages are not something the average citizen thinks about every day. However, if they knew how understaffed most hospitals and emergency rooms were - they'd be panicking all over the place. One estimate is that every hospital in America is only 55 to 60% fully staffed at any given time. One estimate is that every hospital in America is only 55 to 60% fully staffed at any given time. Frankly, that's a pretty alarming statistic. Nursing shortages cause patient overload, lack of timely care, burn out in the profession and crucial care issues left unresolved. What is causing this lack of care?
It's a Hard Job
Nursing is a profession that requires both educational development and physical commitment. There is a lot of memorization and skill maintenance required in modern nursing. A computer cannot do this job for you. Many students lack the ability to academically succeed and pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) - state board of nursing exam.
Further, once the nursing license is achieved then the work really begins. Nurses tend to work 12 hour a day shifts 3 to 4 days a week (plus call-in days due to the shortage of good nurses). Depending on the floor the professional chooses, a nurse can take 6 to 8 patients (ICU and CCU nurses take 1 to 2). There is rarely time to take a break, talk on the phone to check up on kids, or check email. Nursing is a non-stop profession.
The reason for this is often because nursing is more like being a doctor than being a care giver. As more responsibility for treatment falls to nurses without adequate compensation for these skills, the profession keeps losing out on good people who want to use their abilities in a more lucrative and less demanding environment.
Many nurses who begin working in a hospital setting soon gain specialty certifications or use their nursing degree in non-care giving capacities. Insurance companies often hire RN's as claims processors because of their knowledge of the medical process. Pharmaceutical companies hire nurses to be drug reps, testers, and representatives. Many nurses are combining their nursing certification with a law degree and working in the field of malpractice lawsuits - usually as advocates for the health care system to the courts.
Burn Out and Bail Out
The demanding hours, the strain of patient care often unsupported by management and the constant need for continuing education cause nurses to leave the profession early or burn out and transition into another environment. The top divorce and mental health care rates in medicine belong to nurses. Dealing with grief, difficult situations and patient's families who expect unrealistic abilities (a nurse with 8 patients can't spend all day fluffing the pillow of one) cause a strain that cannot always be prevented and brings about a high attrition rate.
The most important thing the health care community can do to solve this shortage is to provide compensated education, support and staff services and limit the extra hours a nurse can be called in. Only when the nursing shortage crisis is addressed will these problems be alleviated and the national health care crisis averted.