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The Growing Shortage of Nurses in Hospitals

September 05, 1987

The nurse's worst enemy is herself. It is a poor self-image as well as a failure to mobilize that prevents the nurse from commanding the professional status that she deserves.

Nurses are grossly underpaid. The average Los Angeles hospital staff nurse earns about $12 an hour. Thus the life and death responsibilities of a nurse are rewarded comparatively to the tasks of a receptionist or grocery store clerk. Added to low wages are horrendous hours with little control over work scheduling. Many hospitals require their nurses to work the graveyard shift as well as to do mandatory overtime.

The typical hospital staff nurse has little opportunity for advancement. If becoming charge nurse is seen as promotion, its minimal salary compensation is heavily outweighed by increased responsibility and longer hours.

Of even greater importance in the factors affecting the nurse's plight is the ever-increasing patient-nurse ratio. In recent attempts to curb the spiraling health-care costs, many hospitals have increased the patient-to-nurse ratio three-fold while at the same time terminating ancillary personnel.

So, why are nurses tolerating an almost impossible environment filled with life-threatening hazards (AIDS and hepatitis to mention a few) and an all too often non-supportive staff? Many are not. As your article points out, nurses are choosing other careers, while potential nurses are electing to stay out of the field altogether.

When called upon to take collective action, the majority of nurses have been slow to mobilize into the powerful coalition that they should be.

With the exception of Kaiser Permanente, few hospitals have unions capable of voicing the nurse's grievances and concerns. The nurse feels trapped between her need to provide for her family and her increasing job responsibilities. She is unable to get a grip on her overwhelming tasks.

Nurses must awaken to the fact that if the profession is to progress, they must band together, unionize and say no to long hours, stressful, dangerous working conditions and substandard wages. Until nurses join forces to improve their lot, hospitals will continue to exploit them and they will be no more than glorified maids.

CAROLE MEDWAY, RN

Los Angeles

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