For nurses, a little respect goes a long way

As everyone knows--heck, even my mom knows this, and she works in a restaurant--nursing shortages are one of the great issues the healthcare industry has to address. Even if president-elect Obama comes up with a health reform plan that knocks everyone's socks off and generates a wave of bipartisan support, it's not likely to fix every problem in the health system. Keeping an adequate nursing workforce in place is in a class by itself.

So why, pray tell, should we be having to enact laws in Philadelphia, or any state in the union, requiring healthcare facilities not to force nurses and other health personnel to work overtime? (See related story in this issue.) Yes, I can certainly see where some facilities may face emergencies that force them to require extra hours from nurses, but the rest of the forced overtime, I suspect, has more to do with avoiding hiring new nurses to cover gaps. And that's no way to cover a shortage--unless nurse turnover isn't a big issue for you, of course.

As regular readers know, when researchers go out there and look into what it takes to attract and keep nurses, the answers they get generally focus on offering them respect and input into decisions that affect patient care. Mentoring programs for newer nurses also seem to be a big plus. The message is clear: hospitals don't have to offer the absolute highest salary to attract more nurses than their neighbors; they just have to treat them like professionals, for heaven's sake.

If they're going to do that, execs might want to start by making sure they're not doing anything coercive to meet their short-term goals, like pushing nurses into tired-zombie zone to in order to meet coverage requirements. Then, they could always do more listening, more empowerment, more enhanced training and the like. They could even fund better salaries for nurse educators at local universities, which can ripple out into more slots for nurse trainees and greater availability of nursing candidates.

In the mean time, a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T goes a long way. Let's hope that it doesn't take a law in every state to convince hospitals that nurses are human too. - Anne