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Nursing shortage is defined as the situation where the demand or need for nursing professions surpasses the supply. This deficit is experienced either locally, i.e. within a local healthcare facility, nationally i.e. government healthcare institutions or globally. This deficit is often measured when the patient-to-nurse ratio, the population-to-nurse ration, or when the number of nursing jobs opening calls for a higher number of nurses working in health care institutions than currently available (Buerhaus, 2007). Note that this situation is also observed both in developing and developed countries all over the world.
Estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that there is a shortage of about 4.3 million health human resources, including nurses and physicians globally (WHO, 2006). The World Health Organization has established that this shortage results from many years of underinvestment in health worker training, management, education, wages and poor working environment. The WHO (2006) asserts that this situation is worse in America because men are still not pursuing nursing careers in significant numbers while women have a wide range of career choices other than nursing. It has been established that only 6%of working nurses in the U.S are men.
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Impact of Nursing Shortage
There are many risks that are associated with nursing shortage on healthcare. For example, this shortage has led to an increase in nurses’ patient workload. Since the ration of nurses-to-patient is low, nurses have to deal with an increased workload (Buerhaus, 2007). This augments the risks of errors, which compromises the safety of patients. Another impact of this shortage is increased risk of spreading infections from patients to the overwhelmed nursing staff (Schwarz, 2003). Nursing shortage also impacts health care by increasing nursing turnover, which leads to greater costs for the healthcare system and employers.
Gravity of the Problem
The problem of nursing shortage is very severe and this problem will persist if tangible solutions are not found. Millions of preventable deaths occur every day as a result of this problem. For example, Schwarz (2003)asserts that the elderly are dying everyday even before their time. This is because nurses on wards are taking care of 11 elderly patients. This situation is replicated in younger patients who die each day because of this shortage.
Solutions to this Problem
The solution to this problem lies in several areas including education, policy and regulations, health care systems and image. The education infrastructure must be strengthened. This includes encouraging individuals to enter and remain in nursing careers. This can be achieved by enacting laws that establish scholarships, retention grants, loan repayments and grants for nursing faculty (Nevidjon & Erickson, 2001). Another solution is transforming the tainted image of this profession. What people think about this profession and how the media portrays it shapes the image of the profession. From the outlook, this profession is considered unpredictable, unstable, and high-risk career option. This image must be changed for people to choose nursing as a career. Retention of nurses is another tangible solution this problem. Nevidjon & Erickson (2001) assert that healthcare executives must embrace new skills for valuing nursing employees. Nurses can be retained through better pay and being provided with safe working environment.
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