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Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor on "The Nursing Shortage: Is This Cycle Different?"

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July 13, 2001

in response by Sposato to topic The Nursing Shortage: Is This Cycle Different? (Jan. 31, 2001)

Dear Editor:

I read with interest the very informative articles in the Topic "The Nursing Shortage." This Nursing Shortage topic is obviously a complex issue with many causal factors. One factor that was not mentioned in depth was the impact on nursing personnel of the physical demands of nursing, particularly demands associated with manual transfers of clients. Nurses and nursing aides, as occupational groups, experience work-related back pain at rates much greater than those of the general worker population. The physical demands associated with patient care cannot be ignored much longer if we are to manage the nursing shortage.

As an educator involved in teaching health care personnel to work safely, I am daily discouraged by the belief of the health care providers themselves that it is acceptable to expose themselves to the risk of pain and often of permanent disability in order to accomplish what must be done to provide care to their patients. This norm has to change or the shortage that we are currently experiencing will worsen. Also our continued reliance on the strategy of using proper body mechanics to prevent injury has resulted in the abysmal safety record noted above. Additionally, the tendency to blame the victim of the work-related illness by saying, "If she had just lifted the right way she never would have hurt herself trying to move that 150-pound totally dependent patient," must be eliminated.

It is time to understand that if we continue to expose ourselves to the excessive physical demands of the typical patient care setting (small rooms, smaller bathrooms, low toilet seats, poor access to bathing facilities, old and/or poorly functioning mechanical devices, absence of necessary tools such as modern lifting/transfer devices, poor staffing patterns, mandatory overtime with resultant fatigue, and workplace stress), we can expect to stay at the top of the list of those felled by overexertion injuries at work. What potential nurse would want to go through the rigors of a challenging nursing program to join such a hazardous profession.

Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion,

Kathleen Sposato, RN BSN
Ergonomic Safety Educator
Rochester, NY

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