Thursday, July 20th, 2000
Shortage of nurses a severe health problem
By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital

Many things have changed about the way we practice medicine in recent years. I have often written about them. Sometimes our medical knowledge changes. Sometimes technology changes. Sometimes medications change. Each of these areas has had a major effect on the things we do. However, medicine is not the only thing that changes over time. Society also changes. Some of the changes in society affect medicine. One example of this is related to the employment of women. Earlier this century, a significant proportion of women had little in the way of job opportunities. The result was that many women worked as teachers. Many women worked as secretaries. Many women worked as nurses. Society has changed. Job opportunities and careers for women are much more plentiful. That has provided a great benefit to our society. It has allowed us to tap talent that we could not do in the past.

But, as with all good things, there are some side effects. One of those has occurred in the area of nursing. As medical career fields began to open up for women, nursing was no longer the primary opportunity. I had few women in my medical school class in 1968. In most medical schools today the ratio is very close to 50:50. The result was that fewer women enrolled in nursing school. There were other options and women took those.

Computer technology has made a major difference in the work place. With the use of word processors, it is a lot easier to retype a letter. Fax machines, photocopiers and other efficient devices have decreased the need for secretaries.
In the medical setting, technology has become more complex. It provides more for patients. It also means that the need for nurses to handle that technology has not decreased. In actuality it has increased the need for training to use these devices. In some areas, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of men. That is true with teachers. Unfortunately, it is not the case with nurses. There are many other factors that affect a choice of career in nursing. These are just some of them. However, it does not really matter what factors we look at. The reality of the situation is that we are facing a severe nursing shortage in this country. There are many areas that do not have enough nurses to provide care for all of the patients who need it.

Most hospitals in this country have empty slots for nurses that they cannot fill. It frequently means that the hospitals have enough beds for the sick patients. However, they do not have enough nurses to staff those beds.
Patients may have to travel to a distant hospital to be admitted. They may have to wait for a bed to open up before they can be admitted to the hospital.
Predictions are that this situation will not get better soon. As a matter of fact, people are living longer. They need more care as they get older. The Baby Boomer portion of our population continues to age. With that aging process comes an increased need for medical care. It is possible that there will be patients in the future who need medical care and there will be not nurses to provide it.

As with most of the things I write, the object is to suggest things that the individual person can do to help with medical problems. There is certainly a role for everyone in this particular problem.
For those of us too old to become a nurse, we can encourage our children and grandchildren to consider nursing as a profession. For those of us thinking about what to study in college in the next few years, nursing should be a strong consideration. There is a golden opportunity for job security for many years to come. In addition, the high demand and short supply will likely create even better compensation for nurses in the future.

Men should make sure they consider nursing as a career. Parents should support that. We create stereotypes in our children. We expect the boys to play with soldiers and the girls to play with dolls. There is no reason that boys cannot play with dolls. It is purely our prejudice that says otherwise. We sometimes create this same kind of prejudice unconsciously about nursing.

Nurses work hard. It is not an easy profession. The hours are long. Hospitals are open 24 hours a day. One only has to look at how hard the nurses here at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital work to appreciate that fact. One of the things that all patients owe to this hard working group of individuals is a big thank you. They should be thanked for what they do. They should be thanked for being in a profession with such demands. They should be thanked for being one of the few individuals to have chosen that profession.
We should avoid taking them for granted and thank them for just being there. We should realize how busy they are since there are not enough of them. This may mean a few minutes extra when the call bell is rung. Understanding that and thanking them for their response is important.

One additional way of thanking them is realizing what a noble profession nursing is and encouraging those around us to choose it as a career.

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