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Nursing shortage strains emergency physicians

The nursing shortage is weighing in on healthcare facilities across the country. As a nurse, this weight may come in the form of a heavier workload, in the amount of exhaustion you experience from picking up too many extra shifts, or in the time you are given to ease into your first job. Whichever the case, as a recent study reports, physicians are feeling the strain as well.

"In the past year, I don't know that I have walked into any particular emergency department where the staff was what I would say happy," says Thomas Foreman, DHCE, MA, MPIA, author of  Daniel Stern and Associates first annual survey of emergency medicine physicians. "I see stress at large out there in the delivery system."

A lack of competent nurses in emergency departments (ED) is one of the leading causes of dissatisfaction among emergency room physicians today, according to the study, Trends, Predictions, and Perceptions of Emergency Medicine Physicians.

The national study, conducted in May, drew responses from 777 physicians, and its purpose was to garner their perceptions of the state of emergency medicine. Almost 100% believed emergency medicine is in a crisis that they see worsening over the next five years.

More than half of respondents (61%) felt they did not have adequate nursing support in the ED where they worked. The majority of participants (41%) also said an increase in nursing staff (including better qualified nurses), ancillary support, such as chaplains and social workers, and psycho-social support would directly relate to their job satisfaction and the stresses associated with their job.

Foreman says these staffing inadequacies often result when nurses are thrown into the healthcare setting and expected to perform before they are ready. But proper training can curb meltdowns.

"The high turnover rate for nurses means that often times you don't get yourself in and get your feet wet for long enough before you are either burned out or moving on to something else," Foreman says.

But insufficient training is not the only matter at hand. When physicians were asked whether they and their fellow ED employees felt their hospital administration and board of directors actively supported their department and its staff, almost half (46%) said no. This lack of support often causes frustration among nurses as they are moved around facilities to fill in empty gaps.

"Because there is a shortage, nurses get abused in facilities, and because nurses get abused in facilities, there is a shortage," Foreman says. "I think that it is a vicious circle in that sense."

Despite the large number of participants who stated nursing was a challenge at their facility, Foreman says physicians are very supportive of nurses.

"It [physicians' opinions] wasn't so much about the nurses as it was about the training for the nurses, or about the lack of support that nurses receive from administrators," says Foreman. "Physicians are very aware of the fact that these nurses are working hard and are getting beat up in the process."

Editor's note: Visit Daniel Stern and Associates for more information on Trends, Predictions and Perceptions of Emergency Medicine Physicians.