Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Where are the Nurses of Tomorrow?

When my daughter graduated from highschool, they announced the future plans of the students. Out of 58 students (it's a small school), 54 were going on to post-secondary education. The surprising thing was that no one chose nursing as a career. Not one.
Why is that? Nursing is now exclusively a four-year university degree program. It is a highly respected profession. People have a high level of trust in nurses. It is a well-paying job, with salaries ranging from $52,000 to $90,000 per year. There is flexibility of hours, which is great when you have a young family. There is a great deal of variety in the type of work you can do, from research, teaching and management, to bedside, community or international nursing.
I have never regretted my decision to become a nurse. I love it. I have been able to be home with my children when they were younger, by working casual hours around my husband's schedule, to working full time again when they were older.
It's a fact that within the next ten to fifteen years many nurses will be retiring, just when most of the population is also elderly and in need of care. The nursing schools are not keeping up with the staffing vacancies, and it's only going to get worse. At each provincial election you hear the same promise to hire more nurses (because people don't come into the hospitals for the good food and the comfortable beds). Where are they going to find these nurses?
We are right to wonder who will be there to care for us when we are elderly.
I would add that the quality of nurses who are graduating today is not what it once was. There are several reasons for this. Some nursing programs don't even give students the opportunity to rotate through all the specialties: maternal/newborn, paediatrics, psychiatry, and medical/surgical, so not only are they unprepared to work in the real world, many aren't even ready to write the R.N. exams. They graduate with little clinical experience and a woeful lack of proficiency in basic nursing skills. Yes, time will improve that, but many won't stay in bedside nursing for long, because they feel their degree should take them to better things. Another nurse commented the other day, that her student was offended when she was asked to give a bedbath. That tells you something about these new grads.
I won't even start with the college vs. university debate.
I train many nurses who are only months away from graduating. I also train new staff. Many can't organize their time with a full patient load, they lack clinical nursing skills, and worst of all, they have no critical thinking skills. They can recognize an adverse symptom like high BP or low oxygen saturation, but they don't know how to draw conclusions about what it means, what to do about it, when to report it, or how to chart it.
It's not all bad news, though. With the mergers of the college and university nursing programs, some are producing quality students. The first few years of a new system always requires some tweaking until things settle out, and some of the poor students who went through their nursing education at that time were 'victims'.
An unfortunate thing that happened at the same time, was that the College of Nurses of Ontario decided to change the RN exam from multiple choice questions exclusively, to a combination of multiple choice and short answer. This was thrust upon a graduating class who had been schooled exclusively in multiple choice exams. The result, as you can imagine, was disastrous.
The next year, they went back to multiple choice exams, and planned to re-introduce the combination exams in a few years, to a graduating class who has been prepared in that way.
How do we convince more young people to pursue a nursing career? Neither of my own daughters is interested. They are pursuing social work and law. And that's fine, too. No one should be a nurse who doesn't want to be. It's not the kind of job you can do if you're heart's not in it. And you wouldn't want to be the patient of a nurse who shouldn't be there, either.
That said, we need to inform highschool students that nursing is a legitimate, well-paid, highly respected profession worth pursuing. We need to support those who pursue it, and not say to them, "Wouldn't you rather be a Doctor, instead?"

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