The Nursing Shortage and Its Effects on Patient Care
The healthcare industry has many challenges to face when it is delivering its services to patients. Not only are there an unbelievable number of diseases and illnesses to diagnose and treat but there is also the need to treat these illnesses in a timely manner. One of the most prevalent issues in the healthcare industry today is the nursing shortage and the affect it has on patient assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.
Depending on hospital size and the number of patient beds it has, there are a certain number of nurses it hires to care for its patients. The patient to nurse ratio on a day to day basis is dependent on the number of patients each department or floor has. Most hospitals also employ a “float” nurse who works on whatever floor has the most patients. The nurse to patient ratio is usually somewhere between five and eight. When thinking about all the care that goes into a single patient, medications, vitals, patient history etc, that can be a lot of work for a nurse. Then add several patients to the mix and you have got your hands full. So what happens when you have more patients than you can handle so you are giving them the care they deserve? What happens is the attention they receive gets cut short and the care they receive may be less than what it should be. While I am in no way condoning this as a way to make it through the shortage, it usually is not that bad on the patient floors. Where you can really run into trouble having a shortage of nurses is the Emergency Room.
The Emergency Room is where the patients that are the most critical go to be treated. Most of the patients there have symptoms of chest pain, trouble breathing, or internal bleeding. These are the types of patients that need immediate attention. The typical emergency room nurse to patient ratio is four to six. Now let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that each nurse has five patients and that two of these patients are considered to be critical status, meaning they require immediate and constant attention. What happens to the other three patients of this nurse? Because the nurse is busy with the other two critical patients she cannot immediately get to the other patients thus, delaying their care and potentially causing more problems or endangering their lives. These patients may need to wait for a half hour or more to see a nurse and if the patient is bleeding heavily or in severe pain it will make for a difficult wait. While it is unlikely for the patients to become critical due to their wait time, it is still a possibility. It is a possibility that is dangerous and needs to be addressed in some manner.
Of course the most logical way to address the nursing shortage is to get to more nurses but the problem there is there are not enough nursing programs and teachers to teach them. The average wait to get into a nursing program in Michigan is two to three years. There are plenty of students willing to become nurses but they just need more people to teach them. Addressing the nursing shortage will address some of the weaknesses in patient care and the healthcare industry at large.