June 2002 Bulletin

Nursing shortage requires action now

Solutions depend on more than money

One in five nurses will quit within five years

By Sharon V. Stormer, BSPA, RN, ONC

In the years ahead, aging baby boomers will need higher levels of orthopaedic care. To keep pace with the growing demand for these services, orthopaedic surgeons will need increasing numbers of clinically skilled orthopaedic and operating room nurses. Unfortunately, nurses—especially orthopaedic and operating room nurses—may be hard to find.

Although the focus is currently on hospital nursing shortages, all practice settings will ultiimately be affected. With fewer individuals choosing nursing as a career and more nurses getting ready to leave the profession, this shortage could become the most severe ever experienced in the United States and around the world.

Previous economic incentives, such as using sign-on bonuses and contract nursing, are no longer effective. Media reports of mandatory overtime for nurses, irregular hours, increased patient loads and physically demanding work are making nursing careers less attractive to younger men and women. Enrollments in nursing schools remain about 17 percent below 1995 levels; about 10 percent of nurses are men; and minorities are also underrepresented.

A recent survey by the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals found that one in five nurses plans to leave the profession within five years. Even more shocking is the fact that one of every three hospital nurses under the age of 30 plans to leave their current job within the next year.

The impact on orthopaedists

Without an adequate supply of nurses, you and your practice will suffer. Surgeries such as knee and hip arthroplasties may have to be delayed or rescheduled, just when the baby boomers are going to need them.

Mandated nurse-patient staffing ratios, such as those that recently became effective in California, could lead to hospital closings if hospitals cannot meet the guidelines. What happens to your patients then?

There’s also your self-interest to consider. If an overworked nurse makes a mistake, you may be named in the lawsuit that follows. In (continued on p. 38) at least one such suit, the family charged that lack of monitoring by nurses, caused by short staffing, led directly to permanent brain damage in a patient.

Take steps now

Nurses form the core of your support staff. But given the current environment, you will have to work harder to ensure an adequate number of nurses will be there when you need them.

Here are some ways that you can help attract qualified individuals to the profession.

Nursing Agenda for the Future

Changing the work environment and making nursing a desirable career choice are essential elements in eliminating the current, as well as potential future, shortages. To aid in this process, the American Nurses Association, along with NAON and over 50 other nursing organizations, have developed a "Nursing Agenda for the Future," that was released in April 2002. This multi-faceted action plan addresses a variety of issues, including education, legislation, and diversity. You can find a copy at www.nursingworld.org/naf.

Later this year, the plan will be presented to policy makers, the health care industry, the corporate community, and the general public. I urge you, on a local level, and the AAOS on a national level to get involved in implementing this plan to cultivate a stable, skilled nursing workforce.

Sharon V. Stormer, BSPA, RN, ONC, is president of the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses. She can be reached at (636) 441-6807 or sstormer@aol.com.

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