You're tops, and not just with me. Year after year, respondents to Gallup polls on honesty and ethics have given nurses the top rating for all professions surveyed. In the most recent survey in November 2003, 83% of 1,004 respondents rated nurses "high" or "very high." (See "National Ethics Survey: Nurses Rise to the Top Again," page 33, February Nursing2004.) How rewarding that the public considers nursing head and shoulders above other professions.
Despite the public's confidence, though, nurses are hurting. In a survey of 1,722 RNs and LPNs last year, 38% rated workload and staffing as their biggest nursing challenge-this topic surpassed all others by a wide margin. Here's what some of the nurses wrote:
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"Bedside care is suffering. Hands-on nursing isn't a priority."
"Doing the work of two RNs each shift"
"Not enough time to be there emotionally and spiritually for my patients"
Reinforcing what these nurses say, recent scientific studies clearly demonstrate how appropriate nurse staffing makes a difference between life and death. Naysayers who've demanded proof that our workloads affect patient outcomes can't deny the numbers. Even the popular press is catching on and citing these studies.
People trust you, and researchers have documented your value at the bedside. What better time to articulate your health care concerns to the public? I encourage you to speak or write to reporters who can spread the word to consumers, and to politicians, who have the power to initiate change.
Regardless of whether you're speaking or writing, keep your message clear and concise. If you want to start small, think about what you'd say to legislators if you had only 30 seconds to speak. Then put those points in writing with a short patient scenario to bring them to life. Ask friends or colleagues to critique and fine-tune your message. Then send it to the editor of your local paper, a state legislator, or a representative in Congress.
Another option is to join a nursing organization that has conferences on speaking and writing about professional issues or committees that get the word out on troublesome trends. Teaming up with other nurses who have similar interests can provide a forum to advocate for your patients and your profession.
The public trusts you, and you have the scientific evidence to justify their confidence. Tell the people in power how you and your patients are hurting and what they can do to help. You have a compelling story and opportunity is knocking. Won't you answer?
Cheryl L. Mee
Aiken, L., et al.: "Hospital Nurse Staffing and Patient Mortality, Nurse Burnout, and Job Dissatisfaction," JAMA. 288(16):1987-1993, October 23-30, 2002.
Cho, S., et al.: "The Effects of Nurse Staffing on Adverse Events, Morbidity, Mortality, and Medical Costs," Nursing Research. 52(2):71-79, March/April 2003.
Needleman, J., et al.: "Nurse-Staffing Levels and the Quality of Care in Hospitals," The New England Journal of Medicine. 346(22):1715-1722, May 30, 2002.