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Lack of Nurses Threatens Patient Care in Hospitals and Physician Practices

Physicians Recommend Quick Actions to Forestall Dangerous Shortages

April 17, 2002

(Washington, DC) Targeted steps must be taken now to improve nurse recruitment and retention as the nursing shortage worsens, according to recommendations released by the American College of Physicians - American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM).

"Without an adequate supply of nurses, patient care suffers," said Sara Walker, MD, MACP, president of ACP-ASIM. "The health care community, legislators, and local policy leaders must move quickly to eliminate barriers to rewarding work place experience for nurses, to increase nursing educational opportunities, and to encourage young people to choose nursing as a career."

In addition to expanding recruitment efforts to school age children, ACP-ASIM has called upon state and federal legislators to provide tuition reimbursement programs for nursing students and improved loan-repayment programs.

"The population of Americans aged 65 years and older will double between 2000 and 2030," said Dr. Walker. " To meet this increasing demand for nursing services, we must seek to attract men and minorities who are under-represented in the current nursing population."

A newly released paper "Addressing the Nation's Nursing Shortage: Recommendations of the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine" also recommends actions to improve the practicing environment for nurses and increase retention. Reduction of administrative tasks, increased use of Licensed Professional Nurses (LPNs) for less skilled tasks and improving communications with hospital management head the list.

"Nurse burnout is clearly a factor that we must address," stated Dr Walker. "Nurses play a vital role in the health care team and their expertise should not be squandered on paperwork and menial labor."

The College recommends creation of effective staffing plans that ensure quality and safe patient care by considering nurse experience and qualifications, rather than simple staff to patient ratios. ACP-ASIM also recommends that employers provide adequate compensation to attract and retain nursing staff. To meet this goal, insurers, particularly the Medicare program, must adequately increase funding to account for increased salaries for skilled nursing professionals.

Recent estimates of unfilled nursing positions revealed 126,000 open nursing positions in hospitals. Physician practices report they are having greater difficulty hiring nurses to supervise clinical staff and perform higher-level duties, waiting longer to hire nursing staff, and offering higher salaries to attract qualified candidates. Since 1980, the number of Registered Nurses under age 35 has decreased by over fifty percent and enrollment in Bachelor of Science and Nursing programs has been steadily declining for the past six years.

The American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine is the nation's largest medical specialty organization and the second largest physician group. Membership encompasses more than 115,000 internal medicine physicians and medical students.

Jack Pope, (202) 261-4556, jpope@acponline.org
Jennifer Whalen, (202) 261-4575, jennw@acponline.org

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Page updated: 11-04-03

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