Why Nursing Care is in Danger

Nursing theorist Jean Watson once said that caring is the essence of nursing practice. It is what nursing is all about. Florence Nightingale certainly exemplified this caring quality with her work during the Crimean War. Over the next several decades, nursing leaders have solidified this characterization of nursing.

However, recent changes threaten to strip the caring nature of nurses that has been their hallmark for a long time. It has manifested subtly at first but has grown increasingly evident in nursing practice today. Experiences by today’s patients, some of them may be you or your family members, attest to the loss of the caring ways and attitudes among many nurses today.

The majority of nursing care being provided at the present is adequate and meets standards of safety and quality. Yet it seems that we are hearing more horror stories from patients about indifferent, callous or nasty behavior by some nurses.

So why do nurses, long considered as models of caring individuals, have now apparently become increasingly devoid of caring behaviors?

One can argue that individual values have changed. Whereas before, people enter the nursing profession do so because they genuinely want to help other people. They were unlikely to have chosen nursing then for high pay and high prestige since nurses in the past were paid low and arguably did not enjoy the respect afforded to present nurses.

That is not to say that today’s nurses don’t want to care for people. Many people still consider nursing as a calling instead of a job and it shows in the quality of their work. That being said, it is also not a secret that many people choose to become nurses for the lucrative pay, material rewards and job stability amid economic troubles. The influx of new entrants to nursing from different fields is not because they experienced an epiphany and suddenly want to care for sick people. Rather, they go into nursing for different reasons, primarily economic.

A nurse who considers his or her work as just a job to pay the bills will find it difficult to become a caring nurse and will not stay long in the profession. He or she considers nursing work as tiresome drudgery instead of it being a privileged role to care for sick people. These are the kind of nurses who are least likely to demonstrate caring behaviors.

Another important reason for the growing impression about the lost art of caring among nurses is the issue of health care cost. Hospitals with limited budgets try to pay the least number of nurses as possible doing more work that they can handle. Nurse staffing ratios in many facilities are far from ideal. Nurses are increasingly pressured to perform nursing tasks with limited resources as quickly as possible.
Because they are understaffed, there is little time for patient interaction. Tasks tend to be performed haphazardly which leads to many errors. Staffing and time constraints have resulted to a type of nursing that is more generic, assembly line-liked and detached – a far cry from the caring behaviors by nurses of old.

It is unfair to generalize and blame today’s nurses for lack of caring. Most of them are doing the best that they can given the circumstances. Yet some of them seem to be more driven by the need to please their employers and keep their jobs while patient welfare takes a backseat.

The health care industry may be complicit with its emphasis on reducing costs and avoidance of costly lawsuits. That is why nurses spend more time perfecting their charts rather than spending time with patients, or why infections break out because staff skimp on supplies. Also, understaffing sometimes results to patient neglect and injuries because there are simply not enough nurses at the unit.

In spite of unfavorable conditions in the nursing industry, the challenge to exert caring behaviors still rests upon the shoulders of nurses who care more about their patients rather than their employer’s bottom line.

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