Letter to the Editor on "The Nursing Shortage: Is This Cycle Different?"

The Nursing Shortage: Is This Cycle Different?

December 15, 2001

in response to topic The Nursing Shortage: Is This Cycle Different? (Jan. 31, 2001)

Dear Editor:

I feel compelled to write this letter in response to the OJIN topic of the Nursing Shortage. After practicing as an RN for over 14 years, I am feeling the effects of the sacrifices I have made to a troubled health care system, a system filled with staffing shortages that often prohibit an RN from taking necessary and scheduled lunch breaks. Even worse, these shortages are contributing to unsafe conditions, unsafe for nurses in that this overwork leads to physical injuries and exhaustion, and unsafe for patients in that this overload results in missing important symptoms and treatments. Unfortunately, I have reached a point where I am considering finding an alternate career. I do not want to leave nursing. I have made some lifelong friends in nursing that I will forever cherish, and I am told that I am "very good at what you do."

Yet I, like many others need to "have a life" outside of my job. I think it is important that I spend some time with my wife and family, rather than continuously working overtime. I am frequently told that I must stay an extra shift because there is no one to replace me, or that I must come in for a mandatory staff meeting on my day off. To refuse the above is not considered "politically correct." Recently when I walked out of the door after a 12-hour shift I was asked, "Don't you feel bad for leaving us short?" (I explained that I was not responsible for the staffing levels of this unit and suggested the nurses remaining call the manager.) When my father had a serious MI and I went to be with him, a former nurse manager took written disciplinary action against me for not calling in "within the required time." And when my father passed away a week later, I received another "episode" thus requiring an "administrative intervention". Another supervisor's comment will forever ring in my memory. She said, "Nursing is no bed of roses. Like my mother once told me, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." And we wonder why we have a nursing shortage?

In my opinion, these above attitudes plague our profession. It is these attitudes that lead to burn out, depression, frustration, anger, and ultimately job resignation amongst the rank-and-file. Although after thinking about this matter long and hard, I am still at a loss as to a solution for this dilemma, I have reached one very important conclusion: I must protect my health and well-being, for if I am not healthy and well, I cannot assist others to become healthy and well.

My current supervisors are trying anything and everything to alleviate the nursing shortage problems, including making sacrifices of themselves far more than mine. However, I am no martyr. I have learned that the "martyr syndrome" is both mentally and physically unhealthy. When will the majority of nurses feel the same way?

Mr./Ms. Rank N. File RN