Unfortunately, the nation's RN workforce is aging significantly and the number of full-time equivalent RNs per capita is forecast to peak around the year 2007 and decline steadily thereafter. It is also predicted that the number of RNs will fall 20 percent below the demand by 2010. Why? Deteriorating working conditions have led to a decline in the quality of nursing care. More than 54 percent of nurses surveyed would not recommend their profession to their children or their friends.
As the nation celebrates National Nurses Week, please take this opportunity to thank a nurse you know. This year's theme, "Nurses are the True Spirit of Caring," reflects the many ways in which nurses have consistently delivered quality patient care and advocated for their patients despite the challenges of a turbulent health care system. Most likely everyone reading this letter will know at least one registered nurse (RN). There are nearly 2.7 million RNs in the United States. And 2.2 million of them are actively employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists nursing as one of the top 40 growth jobs for the next 10 years. It projected a need for 2.6 million working RNs by the year 2005. That's an additional 800,000 RNs above current levels.
The need for more RNs is also true in Alaska. The Alaska Department of Labor lists nurses in the Professional Specialty Workers Group and employment in 1998 was 3,900 nurses and projected in 2008 is the need for 5,455 RNs. In Alaska we have 220 annual openings in the nursing profession. The Alaska Department of Labor predicts, "Alaskans with the most education will enjoy the best opportunities." Twenty-five percent of new jobs or jobs created due to growth in the economy will require a bachelor's degree or higher. Lastly, of the 15 fastest growing occupations in Alaska, 10 are with health services.
Unfortunately, the nation's RN workforce is aging significantly and the number of full-time equivalent RNs per capita is forecast to peak around the year 2007 and decline steadily thereafter. It is also predicted that the number of RNs will fall 20 percent below the demand by 2010. Why? Deteriorating working conditions have led to a decline in the quality of nursing care. More than 54 percent of nurses surveyed would not recommend their profession to their children or their friends. Aging workforce and poor salaries are two more reasons for the decline in RNs. Also the perception that advanced nurse practitioners are wannabe doctors. Contrary to the recent My Turn by Steven Pearce, "Who should assess your mental health?", advanced nurse practitioners can accurately, safely and thoroughly certify the medical condition of being intoxicated. Advanced nurse practitioners do have the appropriate medical knowledge to diagnose "true" intoxication or another medical conditions. HB 115 does not give "too much power" to nurse practitioners. Research shows that nurse practitioners can provide 60-80 percent of primary care services as well as or better than physicians and at a lesser cost. The Jan. 5, 2000, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported the result of a study, which revealed patients fared just as well when treated by nurse practitioners as they did when treated by physicians.
So, in the time of health care crisis, thank a registered nurse for taking care of you, your family in the hospital, office or clinic, your son or daughter in school, visiting you in your home or workplace, helping prevent a communicable disease, explaining your medication or the use of your epinephrine pen. These men and women deserve better working conditions, better salaries and respect for their work in all the varied environments where nurses are found.
Justine Muench is a registered nurse with the Juneau School District.
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