Nursing Shortages

Newsletter Type: Medical Malpractice

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Nurses themselves raise the issue of inadequate staffing when asked about why incidents and mistakes occur in hospitals. Inadequate staffing may be the result of a number of factors, including an insufficient number of nurses being trained and entering the workforce or cutbacks in registered nurses' positions by healthcare agencies in order to cut expenses. Whatever the reason, there is a growing recognition that there is an inadequate number of nurses to meet the needs of patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

Several studies have suggested that a higher nurse-patient ratio is associated with improved patient outcomes affecting both illness and death. In addition, a higher nurse-patient ratio seems to lead to shorter lengths of stay in hospitals and a reduction in complications such as bed sores, pneumonia, urinary tract and post-operative infections. The same positive relationship between the level of nurse staffing and the quality of care applies in nursing homes.

Why Aren't There Enough Nurses?
Drop in Enrollment in Nursing Schools. Annual surveys show that there has been a drop in enrollment for the past 10 years. Once reason may be that nursing has traditionally been a predominately female occupation, and women in today's workplace have more choices and alternatives. It appears that nursing schools have not done enough to make the profession an increasingly attractive choice. In addition, wages for nursing have been declining, which serves as a deterrent to enrolling in a nursing school.

Aging Workforce. The nurses currently working in the profession are aging, with a substantial number entering middle age. Therefore, many of the current nurses in practice today will be retiring in the near future, and it will be difficult if not impossible to replace their numbers and experience levels.

Attractive Alternatives. Nurses working in a hospital or a nursing home often complain of the stress created by rotating shifts, weekend work, and working on major holidays. They are now seeking jobs outside of that environment in order to create a professional life that is more in tune with family requirements and are frequently choosing lower paying nonacute care settings over hospital or nursing home employment. Many experienced specialty nurses are choosing career options such as case management, nursing education, clinical information management systems, and outpatient surgicenters or are caring for patients at home.

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