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by Carla Perrotta
Once again, the nursing shortage has been catapulted into the media spotlight. Capping off the flurry of reports was the release last month of a study by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) that blamed inadequate staffing levels for one-quarter of patient deaths and injuries.
The reports zero in on many of traditional causes, including an aging population with more health-related issues converging with a labor force that, because of pay and working conditions, is seeking more attractive career opportunities. The recommendations, though noble, are no less conventional and sweeping: creating a "culture" of retention, enhancing education and seeking more federal funding. Easier said than done.
While these reports have helped focus public attention on concerns that we live and work with every day, they contain little substance that will change the healthcare profession. While those of us in the healthcare field may not be able to change the world, or even our profession, we can change our own internal response to it. Here's how:
Make a Difference
Remember why you entered the health-related profession to begin with. It wasn't for the money. The fact is that few professions offer such a special opportunity for worthwhile work as does nursing and the related health care fields. Healthcare professionals genuinely care about making a meaningful difference in a person's life.
Look for ways to decrease the non-nursing frustrations such as administrative tasks, reporting and paperwork, housekeeping, food service and other tasks that leave less time to spend on actual patient care.
Do you remember the story of the boy walking on a beach littered with starfish? As he walks, he tosses starfish after starfish back into the ocean. An older man, witnessing his labors, approaches him and says, "Son, with all these starfish along the beach, you can't possibly hope to make a difference." Undeterred, the boy retrieves another starfish, tosses it back in the water and turns to the man and says, "Sir, to that one I just did."
One of the ways to make a difference is to set realistic expectations of what amount of your time can honestly be dedicated to interacting with the patient. Whatever the actual amount of time, be present during that time, celebrate the success and fulfillment it brings, and find ways to gradually increase it.
Accentuate the Positive
In today's healthcare climate, with sicker patients and greater demands, it's easy for healthcare workers to feel overwhelmed. Don't dwell on the time that you're not actually spending with the patient. Recognize that some of the support activities are necessary for the patient's welfare. By emphasizing what attracted you to the profession in the first place, you have a better shot of renewing job satisfaction.
Look for ways to extend your circle of influence by collaborating with other nurses and physicians. Your short- and long-term success depends upon them. Look for ways to fit in, to build a sense of camaraderie and become a part of the team. Don't be a loner. That means understanding the personalities and capabilities of those above you, those below you and those beside you. Equally important to what you do is how you do it.
In a similar vein, getting caught up in internal politics or turf battles is a no-win proposition. Understand what is expected of you and do it. Hard work will be recognized.
Once your confidence and credibility have increased, look for opportunities to make more bedside decisions. You know best how to invest resources to get the best possible patient outcomes, so use it. Even minor changes in routine procedures can drive home the message that the bedside clinician's voice really matters. Nurses, for example, can join physicians on rounds and in continuing education classes when the course work overlaps. Nurses and physicians can begin routinely jotting their notes in the same area of the patient's chart so they can benefit from each other's perspective.
With all the administrative headaches that go with the territory, sometimes it becomes easy to wallow in self-pity. Look for opportunities to plug in with people on other floors, in other health care settings, or in professional organizations. Understanding that your problems and issues are no worse than anybody else's is an important discovery.
The value of having a mentor at work provides an ideal environment for positive career development. Ideally, your mentor should be in a senior position, someone you respect and trust, and who doesn't have direct responsibility for you. With your mentor you can more openly discuss challenges you have with your job or fellow employees without fear of repercussion.
Increase Skills and Aptitudes
Look for ways to continue to grow your professional skill set. This not only includes healthcare-specific training, but also interpersonal development such as communication, conflict resolution, stress management and the like.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Avoid moaning or bellyaching over everything that goes wrong with the job. As the research has illuminated, and as we have known for a long time, there is plenty to complain about. But complaining often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, so resist the urge. Strive to maintain polished communication skills, a professional demeanor, enthusiasm, and an above-the-call-of-duty commitment to exceed expectations.
Don't forget the other priorities in your life-your family, your health, your hobbies, and your friends. If all facets of your life are not in alignment, there's no way you will find fulfillment on the job. Remember, you work to live; you don't live to work.
None of these recommendations will solve the nursing shortage. But within them are the seeds of personal growth that may provide the difference in your job satisfaction and your professional fulfillment. Choose to make that difference.
Carla Perrotta has 22 years in the healthcare staffing industry and is now responsible for all business operations related to Kelly Healthcare Resources, a business unit of staffing provider Kelly Services Inc., based in Troy, Michigan.