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Nurses and Unions, Changing Times

Sep 8, 2008
Since the days of Florence Nightingale, the profession of nursing has been viewed as a career consisting of self sacrificing individuals who, with caring and compassion have devoted their lives to easing the pain and suffering of those in need. Such noble and honorable individuals would surely never strike for what ever reason, right? Wrong! So, what has happened over the centuries to the profession of nursing?

To begin to understand what has taken place in the arena of nursing, one needs to understand what the nurses of today are faced with in the hospital settings. First, many nurses are required to care for more patients than they can handle safely. This is to say that a patient care load of seven on a medical surgical unit can go up to eleven during the afternoon and midnight shift.

Depending on the acuity (level of care needed) of the clients, the nurse may not be able to safely attend to all of the clients needs, and need to forego certain aspects of care just to be able to get the majority of their responsibilities completed by the next shift. This situation of patient overload can result in very serious health consequences for the patient and ultimately, death.

The direct consequence of patient neglect for the nurse involved would usually entail a law suite being filed by the family naming the nurse and the hospital as well. Patient overload is just one of the many reasons that nurses have sought to form a coalition and be represented by their own organizations. Another reason for nurses to organize is due to the policy of pulling nurses to other floors where the patient acuity care process requires specific knowledge to be able to practice safely as a nurse. An example would be a maternity floor nurse being pulled to a medical surgical floor and being assigned a patient load consisting of newly admitted pre-operative patients and others that require suctioning and vent care.

The maternity floor nurse would not only be unsafe to work on the medical surgical floor, but could also put patient's lives in jeopardy due to her inexperience. So, what is that nurse supposed to do if they decide to decline being pulled to another floor? Many nurses feel that they may be reprimanded by the shift supervisor and perhaps written up for insubordination. But are they not in fact, declining for a valid reason? Also, shouldn't quality patient care be the utmost priority as well as patient safety? The answer to both of these questions is of course a resounding, YES!

However, many nurses are faced with these dilemmas day in and day out. They leave at the end of the day feeling as if they haven't been able to give proper nursing care. They would be correct. It is an unsafe practice to float nurses that are unfamiliar with a particular floor to work there. The fact is, that it is done on a regular basis. Would this be a sufficient reason to strike? Many nurses think so. The list could go on and on. How safe would you feel with a nurse caring for a loved one who was on the sixteenth hour of a double shift? Not very, right? Approximately 60% of nurse in practice are providing care in hospitals (Work-Place issues, 2005)

In 1946, the American Nurses Association's House of Delegates unanimously approved a resolution that opened the doors to nurses to engage in collective bargaining. Then about thirty years later the legal precedent that determined that state nursing associations are qualified under labor law to be labor organizations is the 1979 Sierra Vista decision. The important consequence that affected nurse was that they were free to organize themselves and not be organized by existing unions. Currently, it is the American Nurses Association that is in the forefront of establishing coalitions and bargaining for nurses nation.

Learn more about nursing education at The Nursing Entrance Test Study Guide.
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Pass the Nursing Entrance Test the first time with our guide at Nurses Learning Center. Written by a Professor of Education for nurses, the guide has over 600 pages with details answers to every question.
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