The University Hospital is going to great lengths to ensure that the national 12 percent vacancy in the nursing profession does not affect them. There are currently 126,000 nursing jobs unfilled in the country.

Paul Wong
Nurse Kelly Howell takes care of a patient in the Birth Center at University Hospital.

Nursing School Dean Ada Sue Hinshaw said nurses are vital to the quality of care in hospitals. “Nurses are the frontline surveillance system in hospitals. (They) catch complications before they occur,” she said.

Many nurses say hospitals not sufficiently staffed with registered nurses decrease the quality of care given to their patients. Patients who risk suffering from complications such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia and shock can go unnoticed with less nurse care.

Clinical care deteriorates if nurse staffing has been low, University Hospital Chief of Nursing Margaret Calarco said.

“What we think is happening is when hospitals have less Registered nurses available, those RNs (that are available) have less ability to access patients as frequently. If a patient is (having) complications, it’s hard to access that,” she said, adding that this is called failure to rescue.

Calarco said University Hospital is actively working to counteract the current nursing shortage by doing such things as advertising, giving Nursing students more real-life experience at the University Hospital and going to career fairs.

Hinshaw said it is also helpful that the school is ranked number four in the nation.

“We still have vacant positions, but we have been able to recruit new nurses here. There is a shortage in Michigan, but the University Health System is fortunate in that we attract them,” Calarco said adding, “The areas that we have the most openings are in the acute care and medical surgical area.”

Many factors have contributed to the present nursing shortage including low salaries, work environment difficulties and less appeal to the profession.

“There is less interest in nursing for a number of reasons. One is how attractive the work appears to the people considering it. Traditionally nursing has drawn the bulk of its people from white women, and their job opportunities have expanded substantially,” said Harvard School of Public Health Prof. Jack Needleman, the lead author on a staffing study published May 30 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Hinshaw said there has been a 30 percent decrease of interest in the field of nursing in the past decade and a half.

The University’s nursing school has seen the effects of this decline. “We have seen some drop in enrollment in the last five years, but not as much as the national drop, which is 21.5 percent below,” she said.

Calarco said she thinks one reason there is a lack of nurses is because of the demands of the profession. “Part of it is the work itself is challenging work. You have to be strong in science,” she said adding that “some jobs that are not this complex are more attractive.”

The work environment has upset many in the nursing field, Hinshaw said. The mandatory overtime, high stress levels, and lack of respect are some of the complaints from nurses. The ability for a nurse to feel valued is imperative for their job performance.

“The relationship between physician and nurse is important for communication and is better for the retention of nurses,” she said.

One of the biggest reasons for the current shortage is because of the mass layoffs in the 1990s. “I think this hospital, like many across the country, was facing a lot of financial challenges and did many things to decrease their costs. We hired more aides than RNs. People did not decrease, but there were less RNs,” she said. “We know after several years now that that was probably not the best way to do things. That is why we have made such a focus on recruiting.”

Hinshaw said the layoffs had a major affect on the field of nursing. “(They) depressed the market, (and) told people not to come into nursing because there were no jobs,” she said.

She added that another reason nursing is not always an attractive profession is because nurses will reach their highest salary in only seven to eight years. Unless nurses go back to school to attain a higher degree, they are limited in their careers.

“You top out way too early,” Hinshaw said.

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