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Nurse Shortages Have Hospitals on Call

Nurse Shortages Have Hospitals on Call

Rash Madkour / AP

March 16, 2009

MIAMI – Newly minted nurse Katie O’Bryan was determined to stay at her first job at least a year, even if she did leave the hospital every day wanting to quit.

She lasted nine months. The stress of trying to keep her patients from getting much worse as they waited, sometimes for 12 hours, in an overwhelmed Dallas emergency room was just too much. The breaking point came after paramedics brought in a child who’d had seizures. She was told he was stable and to check him in a few minutes, but O’Bryan decided not to wait. She found he had stopped breathing and was turning blue.

“If I hadn’t gone right away, he probably would have died,” O’Bryan said. “I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Many novice nurses such as O’Bryan are thrown into hospitals with little direct supervision, quickly forced to juggle multiple patients and make critical decisions for the first time in their careers. About one in five newly licensed nurses quits within a year, according to one national study.

That turnover rate is a major contributor to the nation’s growing shortage of nurses. But there are expanding efforts to give new nursing grads better support. Many hospitals are trying to create safety nets with residency training programs.

“It really was ‘Throw them out there and let them learn,’” said University of Portland nursing professor Diane Vines. The university now helps run a yearlong program for new nurses.

“This time around, we’re a little more humane in our treatment of first-year grads, knowing they might not stay if we don’t do better,” she said.

The national nursing shortage could reach 500,000 by 2025, as many nurses retire and the demand for nurses balloons with the aging of baby boomers, according to Peter Buerhaus of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Nursing schools have been unable to churn out graduates fast enough to keep up with the demand, which is why hospitals are trying harder to retain them.


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