Woman's Day: Critical shortage largely due to lack of respect for nurses' workplace duties and needs; by the way, don't settle for a nurse when you could see a physician
October 7, 2003 -- The issue of Woman's Day dated today includes a fairly good article by Richard Laliberte about the nursing shortage. But it undercuts the article to some extent with a baseless derogatory comment about nurse practitioners in a nearby sidebar by Winnie Yu.
The Laliberte article provides much of the basic information about the shortage. It discusses heavier workloads driven by staffing cuts, sicker patients, increased paperwork and difficult hours, though not changes in career options for women, nurses' historic lack of empowerment and the profession's continuing poor public image. The story gets into efforts to address the shortage, such as the magnet hospital program and the Nurse Reinvestment Act, and offers good tips on getting better nursing care.
One sidebar called "The Nursing Alphabet" helpfully explains the different categories of nurses. Unfortunately, it states that RNs "can carry out orders from doctor [sic] and can do certain invasive procedures, such as starting intravenous medicines." The suggestion that nurses follow physician "orders" understates the autonomy of nursing. And the use of the word "can" here and elsewhere in the sidebar implies that nurses could do various important tasks if pressed, when in fact many of these are things nurses take the lead on.
Several pages earlier in the same issue of the magazine, a column called "Your Health" has a sidebar entitled "Do You Need a New Doctor?" by Winnie Yu. It contains a number of tips, apparently based at least in part on input from John J. Connolly, Ed.D. The first warning sign that it may be time to switch physicians? "You can never get an appointment and when you do, you only see a nurse or assistant. The doctor is the most qualified to make a diagnosis or deduce your risk for a disease." We take this as a contention that the United States' 200,000 advanced practice registered nurses (APRN's), who include certified nurse midwives and certified nurse anesthetists, are less qualified to treat patients than physicians are.
In fact, recent research published in respected scientific journals both in the United States and overseas has found that health care delivered by APRN's is equal to or better than that of physicians. For a discussion of some of these studies, see the Center's FAQ: Do physicians deliver better care than Advanced Practice Nurses?. It is ironic that Woman's Day saw fit to contribute to the very nursing shortage it decries by denigrating, contrary to scientific evidence, this entire class of dedicated nursing professionals.
To let Mr. Laliberte, Ms. Yu and the editors of Woman's Day know how you feel about this issue, please write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org. When you do write, please blind carbon copy the Center at email@example.com. If you need guidance on drafting an effective letter, please see our web page "Get help writing a letter." Also, please post a copy of your letter on our discussion board for all to see. Thank you.