Want Safer Nurse Staffing? Raise Your Voice and Join the Movement

Doris Carroll, BSN


March 21, 2018

Our Watershed Moment

The practice of nursing is under attack. For many years, nurses have struggled with unsafe staffing, "short" staffing, or nursing shortages—whichever term is apropos of the untenable situation of having too few nurses to safely care for patients. The descriptors might differ, but the struggle is real. Research has established a correlation between registered nurse (RN) staffing levels and poor patient outcomes. "Bedside" nurses find themselves less valued, unheard, and rarely accorded an equal voice in determining their own safe level of practice. And they urge healthcare administrators to put patient safety ahead of profits (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Deena McCollum, BSN, and Kristen Knott, BSN, send a message to hospitals to reconsider their priorities. Image courtesy of Deena McCollum.

Unsafe staffing is not unique to the United States. In fact, nurses in England are suffering even more from critical staffing shortages.

Arguably the biggest problem in achieving "enough nurses" is not that we lack evidence of the difference they make or that we have insufficient information to determine the numbers needed or the conditions associated with attracting and retaining nurses. And it's not that we have failed to share the evidence. It's a system-wide failure to fully comprehend the unique value of the skilled care provided by RNs. If the contribution of RNs is not valued, the RN workforce is not planned with diligence, nursing shortages arise, and staffing levels are lower than they need to be to provide care safely and effectively.[1]

I wonder—what will be the watershed moment for nurses to take action and demand a rewrite of safe staffing levels?

I believe it's the NursesTakeDC movement. This grassroots movement is sponsored by Show Me Your Stethoscope, a 3-year old social media nursing organization with more than 600,000 members. Their mission is not only to raise awareness but also to ignite the voices of the country's 4 million RNs and licensed practical nurses around the goal of passing federal legislation to require nurse staffing levels that are sufficient for safe patient care. Such legislation would be supported by 20 years of research. On April 25-27, 2018, nurses from across the country will gather in Washington, DC, with a Capitol Hill rally on April 26. Find out more at (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Nurses participating in the 2017 NursesTakeDC rally. Image courtesy of NursesTakeDC.

We have always advocated for patients. Now, we must advocate for ourselves.

Nurses must come forward now. We have always advocated for patients. Now, we must advocate for ourselves. The status quo is a minefield—change is mandatory. But it won't happen in silence. Nurses are organizing to be united with one voice, for change. Do not be afraid. Remember, you have a nation of nurses behind you (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Poster for this year's NursesTakeDC rally. Courtesy of David Miller Photography.


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