What Nurses Need to Be Happy

Hospital administrators need to think outside the box and develop plans to assist nurses to continue to work, to have reduced physical demands, more flexibility, and career options, as well as better pay and benefits. They need to listen to their employees and the reasons they hate their jobs. They also need to participate in the educational opportunities and training of new nurses as well as enticing young people to enter the field. The nursing shortage is not going to be solved quickly this time with higher salaries and recruiting nurses from other countries.

Longevity in employment is something hospitals are only now beginning to reward. Only when a staff member reached a huge milestone such as twenty-five or thirty years did they even make any sort of recognition and at that it was usually because the person was retiring or had died. Now some hospitals are honoring even first anniversaries and making monetary bonuses or other benefit increases at lesser mile-stones such as five- and ten-year marks.

Women make up the majority of the work force in nursing. Thirty years ago when many of today's nurses were considering career options, they had few choices. Women became teachers, secretaries, or nurses. Today, women are not limited in their career choices. It is not uncommon for anyone to change careers several times in their lifetime now. Most nurses' skills transfer well to other fields, and because nurses are highly skilled critical thinkers, most employers will be thrilled to hire and train a former nurse to fill their positions.

To recruit and retain nurses, hospitals need to consider working conditions. With mandatory overtime and on call issues, nursing could be considered to be the sweatshop of the new millennium. Patients are more acutely ill, and because of managed care they leave the hospital sicker than ever before. This places a tremendous burden for patient education on the nurses. The use of unlicensed staff places more responsibility on licensed nurses who have to delegate to and supervise these staff members.

Health care doesn't fit neatly into a nine-to-five job. Acutely ill people require care twenty-four hours a day. Others require access to their health care providers round the clock. Does that always mean that shifts need to be eight, ten, or twelve hours? Hospitals changed to twelve-hour shifts offering nurses opportunities to work three days a week instead of five. This was great, and then nurses found that they could work for two hospitals and make far more money. And if they work for a travel agency and “travel” to a hospital fifty or more miles from home, they can earn tremendous salaries. So are salaries not really an issue?

The health care industry is going to have to listen to nurses and be willing to make some radical changes if this shortage is going to be solved. No doubt nurses want to be caregivers and to continue to make a difference in someone's life every day, but they also want their own lives. They love their work and hate their jobs. What does that mean?

Do nurses want more prestige? Do they want power lunches? Do they want to work shorter shifts, such as six hours a day, and maybe more short shifts? Do they just want someone to let them go to the bathroom and eat a meal? Do nurses want to be able to rotate shifts, especially shorter ones, so that they have opportunities to participate in their family's lives? Do they need to be thanked and recognized more often? Do they need new challenges and opportunities such as changing units or trying out a new specialty without penalties? Other industries have had to rethink their work conditions in order to recruit and retain staff; it's high time the health care industry did the same.

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