Letters to the Editor

One of the replies to “What are the biggest challenges to overcoming the nursing shortage?” [Summer 2008] complained that there have been two television series about Hopkins doctors but none about nurses.

Good news! There was! In 2001, Discovery Channel broadcast a five-episode series about Hopkins nurses. The Welch and Eisenhower Libraries own the DVDs of this series, entitled “Nurses.”

You can find them in the library catalog under their individual titles: “Battling for Babies,” “Critical Care,” “Nursing the Mind,” “Pediatrics,” and “Touch of Mercy.”

Sue Vazakas, PhD
Science and Engineering Librarian
Johns Hopkins University

I received the Summer 2008 issue and read it with great interest, in particular the featured topic of nurse retention. This certainly has been a hot topic for a while now, and it was great to read Stephanie Shapiro’s excellent treatment of the subject. But I recently felt the weight of the problem in a very personal way and feel compelled to comment.

In July, one of my coworkers was diagnosed with colon cancer. Unpleasantly and nearly concurrently, I came down with appendicitis. We ended up in two different Baltimore-area hospitals having surgery one day apart. Our experiences were sadly similar in one regard–the poor quality of nursing care.

No specifically dangerous care, no individual incompetence, no mistakes per se. Some of the nurses that I encoun-tered provided excellent care. But on average, poor care just the same. I think it could be described best as benign neglect. However, I say benign only because she and I are both nurses and knew enough to manage without the missing care, or to ask when we really needed it. Out of perverse curiosity I queried friends about recent hospitalizations, and I heard even worse stories.

So much of what we experienced was systems related, and directly related to the nursing shortage. So thinking back to 12 years ago when I entered the field, I can’t help but shake my head and think that anyone could have seen this coming.

So you ask, what are the biggest challenges to overcoming the nursing shortage? For what it’s worth, here’s my list:

Money:  we need to put our money where our collective mouth is, and find meaningful funding for education. How can we justify saddling new nurses with $60K in loans?! (and yes, that really is an accurate figure)

The culture of nursing: we have always been accused of “eating our own” and we do. We need to start showing our colleagues the respect we want from others.

Accountability and realistic responsibility:  do a good job taking care of our patients, feel proud, and go ahead and brag about it.

Making the job do-able: downsize the paperwork and eliminate the redundancy in documentation. Refocus the job on the most rewarding feature of nursing, the hands-on care of patients. Free up nurses to research best practices, to educate patients, and to mentor new staff.

Maureen A. Fitzpatrick, MSN, CRNP
Center for Sexual Medicine
Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, Baltimore

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