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Why we should all be concerned about the U.S. nursing shortage

Every day in hospitals around Wilmington and throughout the country, nurses are on the front lines of patient care. During their education to become healthcare professionals, nurses are trained in how to help treat, diagnose, assist and care for patients. Much of a nurse's training and experience, however, are gained on the job as nurses comfort scared patients, help educate patients about health risks and hold the hands of dying patients.

Given the significant and varied roles fulfilled by nurses in U.S. hospitals, reports of a widespread nursing shortage are especially concerning. According to the American Nurses Association, factors contributing to the apparent nursing shortage include an aging workforce, improved access to healthcare and the aging baby boomer generation.

For Delaware residents, the nursing shortage translates to a higher patient to nurse ratio. Many people don't likely spend too much time contemplating the nursing shortage, that is until a loved one or they themselves are negatively impacted. Studies show a direct link between "patient outcomes and nurses' workload." For example, a study by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses revealed that inadequate nursing staff levels adversely impact the safety and survival rates of cardiac arrest patients.

Common sense would dictate that as a nurse's workload and patient assignments increase, he or she is more likely to make medical errors. Additionally, a nurse who is continually overloaded with patients is more likely to experience burnout which, according to National Nurses United, often results in increasing levels of frustration, anger, fatigue, ambivalence and guilt all which have a negative effect on patient safety.

Source: Fierce Healthcare, "Nurses afraid to speak out about dangerous staff shortages," Leslie Small, May 28, 2015

National Nurses United, "Beating the burnout: Nurses struggle with physical, mental and emotional exhaustion at work," Lisa Ermak, Jan. 26, 2014

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