The Nursing Shortage: What Patients Can Expect
by Cori Ritchey
“By the time I am done with my 12 hour shift, it feels like an eternity,” a nurse reflects on her work. “The last thing you want to think about is having to return the next day and do it all again.”
Alessia Smith* is a registered nurse on a medical surgical and telemetry floor at a hospital outside of Boston. She is a recent graduate, and has only been in the field for about seven months. To her, however, it “feels like a lifetime”.
“Being understaffed affects everyone at work- the patients, the nurses, the secretary; sometimes even the families of the patients we are taking care of,” says Smith.
The nursing shortage is rattling hospitals, long-term facilities, and outpatient doctors offices alike. The lack of workers creates a heavy burden on the few remaining, as patients pile up through the coronavirus pandemic, amongst other illnesses.
The factors that link to the current nursing shortage seem endless. On top of a worldwide pandemic that is building on already problematic burnout, there’s already a whole generation of healthcare workers that are getting to the point of retirement.
“Baby boomers”, those born between the years of 1946 and 1964, are currently hitting retirement age. According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2018, 47.5 percent of RNs are over the age of 50.
Because of these new retirees, not only are we losing more and more nurses to retirement, there is also an increasing number of senior citizens with aging bodies that need more healthcare. According to the National Library of Medicine, the 65+ population has increased by nearly 73 percent from 2011 to 2019, from 41 million to 71 million.
Some areas have been hit harder than others in regards to demographics. Texas, California, South Carolina, and Nevada have the worst nurse to population ratio. South Carolina ranks the lowest with only 7.9 registered nurses per 1000 people, according to a 2020 study from the University of Saint Augustine.
As the shortage continues, what can patients expect?
Patients should expect to be waiting a little longer for common needs, such as a pitcher of water or a blanket. The nurses that remain have to focus on prioritizing patient needs when there are less hands on deck.
“People are flooding the hospital with covid and their symptoms are very crucial and sometimes we need to prioritize who we see first,” Smith says. “My patients are very sick and I tend to the ones that I feel need me the most.”
Because of the lack of nurses, patients can also expect shortened length of stays. Doctors and hospital administrators will aim to discharge patients right when they are independent enough to be safe at home, to relieve the ratio of patients to nurses.
Another thing patients need to expect is less small talk then normal.
“We aren't running out of [our patients] room while they are mid-sentence telling us stories about their life or family just because we don't want to take the time to get to know them,” Mary Zellhart, registered nurse at the University of Vermont hospital, tells. “We are running because we heard someone yell for help from another room or a crisis ‘high alert’ alarm is going off which means a patient might be in critical condition and needs to be assessed quickly.”
Patients will need to harness their patience through these times. They can help by keeping nurse calls to a minimum- asking for multiple things in one go rather than calling each time they need something.
“If [patients] can make a list of things they need the next time we come around to them for us to address instead of ringing multiple times in a short time span,” Zellhart says. “This allows us to manage our time better and provide better quality of care.”
The nurses who remain do their best to promptly accommodate patient needs and wants. Through this shortage, patients must respect longer wait times, and prioritize what is important to ask for.
Cori Ritchey is a Washington D.C. native newly transplanted to the Boston area, expected to graduate from Emerson College in 2022 with a Masters in Journalism. She is a graduate of Penn State University with a bachelors of science in Kinesiology. Through her experience working on the frontlines of health care, Lead by a love for reading, writing, and public speaking, Cori became a health and science reporter to shed light on these issues.
Challenging a Doctor: Your Rights to a Second Opinion
by Julianna Strano
When we are given a diagnosis by our doctor it is common for us to be unsure, have mixed feelings, and even question the news or diagnosis that we receive. As patients if we feel unsure about our diagnosis we have the right to a second opinion. Second opinion is when a patient will receive a second diagnosis from a doctor other than their primary.
The National Cancer Institute explains a second opinion as, “A second opinion may confirm or question the first doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan, give more information about the patient’s disease or condition, and offer other treatment options.”
As humans we are aware that no one is perfect, and mistakes are made every day. This can also be true in the medical world among doctors and nurses. Which is why as patients we have the right to receive a second opinion. Getting an opinion and new diagnosis from a fresh set of eyes and a different doctor can be beneficial in many instances.
An original diagnosis given sometimes may be unclear, confusing, cost a lot of money, or be news that we were not expecting to hear. Going to a second doctor for another opinion can be beneficial and leave patients feeling more confident and at peace.
Studies have shown that second opinions have been proven to be beneficial. A study completed by the Mayo Clinic which involved 286 patients found that only 12% of them received the same diagnoses in both their original and final diagnosis. The same study also found that in 21% of cases there was a “distinct difference” between the first opinion and second opinion that patients received. The objectives of their study state, “Patients with ambiguous, uncertain, and undiagnosed problems are frequently referred for second opinions.”
Patients have the right to look for a different healthcare provider and reject the original diagnosis given by their primary doctor and have the right to reject treatment. Patients also have the right to make treatment choices.
Patients may choose to receive a second opinion and receive the same news given to them in their original diagnosis, but this will help give patients peace of mind and confidence in the news that they have received.
Another possible outcome of a second opinion is receiving a different treatment plan. Sometimes patients will receive the same diagnosis but a different treatment plan that patients may feel more confident in and comfortable with. It is also possible that the doctor they see for a second opinion is a better match for the patient. There are various possible benefits.
Receiving a second opinion will help to give patients a peace of mind and a sense of empowerment and control. Choosing to receive a second opinion is a way for us to become empowered patients. In most instances a primary doctor will respect their patient's decision of looking into a second opinion and understand that patients have this right.
Julianna Strano is a senior at The University of Arizona majoring in journalism and sociology. Julianna is passionate about all topics related to health and wellness and has the goal of educating and informing others through her writing. Julianna joined the editorial staff of Today's Patient to have the opportunity to help educate others on patient rights and discuss topics that she is passionate about.
February Feature Video
As patients, we all tend to self-diagnose ourselves using the internet. This new video from Emma McAdam, the renown licensed marriage and family therapist, warns about the dangers of self-diagnosing, especially when it comes to our mental health. Learn more about Emma at www.therapynutshell.com.
February 2022 Page 3