Nation salutes nurses on their day

They hold your hand when you are ill, make sure you get your medications on time and monitor your condition around the clock’and it is all just part of the job. May 6-12 is officially designated as National Nurses Week. A week set aside to give a little extra attention to the often overlooked and under-appreciated individuals who make up a large portion of each medical office and hospital staff. Strapped with long hours most of which are spent on their feet, nurses across the nation are facing a growing dilemma’fewer numbers of them. Recent studies conducted by various organizations indicate that the current nurse shortage is only expected to worsen. In a time when choosing a profession focuses mainly on making big bucks in a short amount of time, one of life’s oldest professions is slowly slipping away. At the Heart of Texas Memorial Hospital, the staff of highly competent nurses is also feeling the effects of the nursing shortage, but specifically, this hospital is in much better shape than many others across the state and even the nation. “Right now, we are operating with at least one registered nurse (RN) on each shift,” said Penny Williams, director of nursing at the hospital. “Ideally, we would like to have two RNs for each shift which we have had before, but that is a best-case scenario. “Many of the state inspectors who come in here are surprised that we even have the RNs on staff that we do. One RN is considered very good for a rural hospital. They consider two to be exceptional.” Some disturbing news was released recently in another study of the nursing field that estimates that the nurse shortage will actually be worse than current estimates. In a survey released April 19 by the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the healthcare division of the American Federation of Teachers, one in five nurses plans to leave the profession within the next five years. According to the survey, irregular hours, staffing problems and low pay are the major factors contributing to the survey results. If the survey holds true, the current estimates of the nurse shortage will fall short and the profession will be in much more serious condition than expected. Numbers released by the Department of Labor show that an additional 450,000 registered nurses will be needed through the year 2008 and this number could easily grow. “The silver lining is that the nurses threatening to leave say they would consider staying if improvements are made including more flexible schedules, better staffing levels and better salaries,” said Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Locally at the Heart of Texas Memorial Hospital, Mrs. Williams says that the nurse shortage is beginning to affect the recruitability of qualified nurses, but not nearly as much as larger metropolitan hospitals. There are stories of some hospitals in larger cities being forced to shut down entire wings due to the lack of nurses. To date, the local hospital continues to have a full staff that is able to cover all shifts. “It is becoming very difficult to recruit qualified RNs to small towns like Brady,” said Williams. “Salaries for RNs has always been an issue and it will continue to remain that way. Yes, there is a shortage of nurses, but we as an industry need to find ways to reinforce their need and respect in order to reverse the trend and get more individuals into the field.” According to Mrs. Williams, the opportunities for nurses are growing. Besides becoming a hospital nurse, the role of a nurse is expanding and there are more and more opportunities in fields such as nurse educators and speciality clinics. “One of the problems we have always had is finding ways to keep nurses in this area,” said Mrs. Williams. “What we are finding that is working is that we can ‘grow our own’ nurses and encourage them to go to RN school. We are also helping them with continuing education and by being as flexible as possible. It is very difficult to lure registered nurses to rural hospitals. “We are very fortunate to have a staff of good, dedicated professional nurses,” Mrs. Williams continued. “If you know a nurse, say thanks and give them a pat on the back for the job they do.”

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