Quantity vs. quality

Thanks to politically active nurses and collective bargaining, nurses’ work environments have improved. But why are RNs still frustrated? Why is there a nursing shortage?

Reason 1: Quality of life. Night shift is obligatory for most new registered nurses. Being fatigued after my shifts, I often fell asleep at the wheel coming home from work. I was frequently sick during this time and had diarrhea so recurrently I worried that I had stomach cancer. It turned out to be irritable bowel syndrome related to stress. It cleared up once I made it to the day shift some two years later. Night shift and sleeping don’t mix, and sleep is second to our physiological health only to air and water. Mandatory overtime is likewise an infringement on our basic rights/needs.

Reason 2: Risks vs. benefits. RNs start off at a decent salary but for certain reasons RNs do not see their salary grow like many other professions. Many people with less vital jobs earn more than RNs. If they make a mistake, someone misses carrots for dinner. If RNs make a mistake, someone may have a stroke or a heart attack, or worse. Great responsibility leads to great stress. I am consistently exposed to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and other antibiotic-resistant organisms before the hospital-industry-standard safeguards are able to detect these “bugs” and isolate them. I risk catching a disease that can debilitate my family or me.

Many people assume RNs merely wipe butts for a living. I am not too proud to admit that this is one of my necessary duties for those with extreme needs. But a great deal of education and experience goes into making the critical decisions we RNs make which constitutes the other 95 percent of our responsibilities.

Who exactly takes care of you? If your RN wasn’t juggling five other patients, then they at least had time to make sure you weren’t getting worse. “A stitch in time saves nine,” is quite literal in regards to health care. RNs would love nothing more than to give “quality care” to a few rather than “quantity care” to many. This is why patient/RN ratios are critical, pun intended.

Reason 3: Financially, it isn’t worth it. One might ask, “Why not get out?” Nurses across California are asking themselves the same question. However, getting out is not my goal. We nurses ask to be acknowledged and proportionately rewarded for our unique efforts so we can stay in the profession; our accumulated experience translates into excellent standards of care and patient advocacy.