Filmed nearly 40 years ago, the “Politics of Caring” film provides history of the grassroots support groups and activities that we continue to build on. One of my favorite parts of the film is about 5 minutes in, when a group of nurses are discussing their frustration with hospital working conditions: “We don’t have enough staff, we don’t have enough time…” They talk about wanting to improve their working conditions, by moving to a different hospital, or unit, or leaving the hospital to work in the community described as “mecca”.
When I graduated nursing school it was not uncommon for nurses to regularly care for 8 or even 10 patients on a cardiac surgery step-down or transitional care unit. I knew this was not the way I wanted to practice nursing, and found my passion in community and home health nursing. The 2003 NurseManifest Study provided an opportunity to talk with my co-workers and colleagues locally and nationally, to better understand what changes were needed and desired by nurses to create their ideal working conditions. Some of the major findings were that nurses felt a lack of respect, a lack of voice, and a lack of unity. Now, over a decade later, my work is dedicated to research that tells the story of what it is like to practice nursing today, and that shows the value of nursing for patients and society as a whole.
Why everyone should care about nurses’ working conditions and staffing ratios was the subject of a recent New York Times Op-Ed “We Need More Nurses” by Alexandra Robbins. The op-ed piece mentions dozens of research studies providing the evidence that patients’ risk of death, infections, complications, falls, hospital and hospital readmission are greater when nurses are caring for more than 4 or 5 medical or surgical patients. Hundreds of readers’ comments brought personal stories and richness to the conversation from the views of nurses, patients, family members, physicians, administrators, and more.
Working conditions and labor force issues for nurses is an international priority, and one source of current information is the RN4CAST Consortium, consisting of nursing workforce research groups in 17 countries, including the United States. Currently the United States group, based at the University of Pennsylvania, is surveying over 250,00 registered nurses and advanced practice nurses about nursing care, patient outcomes, and general working conditions for nurses. You can learn more about their work, and the study director Dr. Linda Aiken here.
Another source of information and place for collaboration is National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, comprised of nursing workforce centers in 33 states. The National Forum of Nursing Workforce Centers is a resource for finding information specific to your state, as well as about nursing workforce issues nationally. Their annual conference will be held next week in Denver, Colorado and you can download the conference brochure and registration information from their website.