The nursing shortage, like bitter winter weather, is something that is constantly discussed. But all the talking in the world won't change either the staff vacancy list or the bone-chilling temperatures.
Now HHS is warning that the nursing shortage is likely to worsen as fewer people choose the profession and the current crop of nurses continues to age. The challenges are obvious. Young women have far more career opportunities than the traditional teaching and nursing pathways. Hospitals and nursing homes are not viewed as plum workplaces. The hours are not predictable. Nurses fail to garner enough respect from physicians and administrators. The job can be dangerous and physically taxing.
It's time for hospitals, long-term-care facilities, nursing schools, physician organizations, medical suppliers, labor groups and patient advocates to launch a frontal assault designed to recruit new nurses and retain those already practicing this noble profession.
The American Nurses Association and other nursing trade groups have done a worthy job of promoting the cause, but they could use more muscle. In return, the nurse lobby should lighten up on the labor demands and management bashing. The elimination of mandatory overtime and adequate staffing ratios are almost impossible to achieve until the supply of nurses increases. Organized nursing's nasty rhetoric about abuse in the workplace is best used at the negotiating table rather than in front of television cameras.
At the same time, healthcare managers must push for ways to promote harmony with their nurses. The recent labor accord reached by the often-combative California Nurses Association and Catholic Healthcare West proves progress is possible. And last year's agreement between provider powerhouse Kaiser Permanente and a group of unions also has cleared some smog and eased tensions.
A united effort by all sectors of the healthcare industry will help spark student interest, government support and financial aid for nursing. To succeed, the message must be clear and the agenda simple-recruit, retain, respect and reward these valuable caregivers.