Nursing Shortage: Is Technology the Answer

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Nursing has always been synonymous with caring. Dr. Jean Watson describes caring as the center of all nursing practices and that it is “a moral ideal rather than a task-oriented behavior” (Tomey & Alligood, 2006, p. 94). At this time in history, there is a nursing shortage that will only get worse unless changes are made to retain old nurses and entice new nurses into the profession. This paper addresses the nursing shortage and how technology can help or hinder the care we give.

Cowen and Moorhead (2006) define nursing shortage as states that do not meet greater than 97% of their demand for nurses, and show that in 2005, 33 states were experiencing a nursing shortage and by 2020, 44 states will be experiencing this same shortage. We can ask ourselves daily there is a shortage, but all we have to do is look at the workplace and see why this shortage exists. Nurses are tired.

Tired of having to care for more patients with less resources, tired of having to work extra because there are not enough nurses to fill the positions and tired of having to work in atmospheres where it is all about the money, not the patients and their families (Mee & Robinson, 2003). This tired feeling leads to negative attitudes from nurses, which shows as they interact with patients, colleagues, and nursing students. Nursing education, or lack of faculty, is another reason we have a nursing shortage.

There are not enough educators to teach these bright, energetic souls how to care for others, or use the technology available to them. Matthews (2003) states “the capacity of nursing programs to accept more applicants is limited by substantial faculty vacancies, and the graying of the faculty workforce also means that traditional approaches to education are more common than the innovative ones” (p. 251). Innovation and technology are needed if we are going to make nursing as appealing to young eople as other appealing opportunities open to them today.

The article Nurse shortage or nursing shortage: Have we missed the real problem? by Bower and McCullough state that technology is the way to help end the nursing shortage. They state “the issue is not finding enough bodies (nurses), although that would help, but to upgrade the tools nurses use so they can provide quality care in a time frame appropriate for what the patient needs. Better tools may mean fewer nurses are really needed” (Bower & McCullough, 2004, p. 200).

They call for keeping the same number of nurses, but increasing the technology that the nurses have available to them to care for the increasing amounts of patients that are served. The nurses that are in the profession now are aging with the average age of nurses today being 46 and, for nursing faculty, 54 (Cowen & Moorhead, 2006). These are the nurses who will have to learn this new technology, and while it is possible, it will be an uphill battle because they will not want to let technology take over the actual caring aspects of nursing.

The technology talked about by Bower and McCullough would end caring as we know it. They predict that by 2030 there will be robots that can perform the duties of a nurse with better precision and guidance then human nurses (Bower & McCullough, 2004) Robots can not take the place of human caring, touch, and feelings that helps patients and families through the troubling times of illness and celebrate health when it is achieved. What we need is collaboration between technology and caring.

Give nurses the technology they need to help perform their tasks on a daily basis, but do not let this technology take over caring, which is at the center of nursing (Tomey & Alligood, 2006). We need to teach our students, and our aging nurses, that caring is essential to nursing no matter what happens in the world today. “Nurses aspire for a practice that is based on the authentic nursing intention to know persons fully as human beings rather than as objects. When the nurse is able to simultaneously portray technological competency and caring in nursing, transformation is achieved” (Locsin, 2001, p. ).

This transformation is needed for the profession to recruit and retain nurses. If this transformation does not happen, then patients will not receive the safe, high quality care that they desire. There will be no trust of the nursing profession and nursing will never reach its full potential as a profession. The nursing shortage abounds in the country today. Whether is be because of the aging workforce or the attitude that is perceived by those outside of nursing, a change is needed to help combat this shortage. Technology is fast becoming the norm in everyday life, especially in nursing.

We need to balance this technology with caring. Once this balance is achieved there will be nurses who feel that they are needed and wanted, will know what they believe in and how to achieve their goals and the patients will feel that they are getting high-quality, personalized, comprehensive care without losing the human touch (Hawthorne & Yurkovich, 1995). This balance with also help nurses to “perform their role with more spirit, more satisfaction, more love, and in a more caring way (Hawthorne & Yurkovich, p. 1090).

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