Telling Our Stories:
What Are Nurses Stressed
and Angry About?
American nurses are frustrated, stressed, and angry. And they are hurting. Nurses I talk with at conferences and meetings sound more weary, disheartened, and cynical than ever before. As many as half of all new graduates leave their first nursing job within a year because they are so disillusioned by the work environment (“In Brief,” 2003, p. 5). In survey after survey, high percentages of RNs voice alarm about unsafe staffing and report decreased quality of care at their facilities. For example, 75% of nurses in an American Nurses Association survey felt that deteriorating working conditions had impacted patient care; over half of them said they would not recommend the profession to their children or their friends (“Nurses concerned …,” 2001). Even during the upheavals created by Medicare’s DRGs in the 1980s and the misguided nurse layoffs during hospital “reengineering” and “downsizing” in the 1990s, there was not such widespread distress. What is fueling all this stress? Listen to the words of nurses:
You’ve always got at least 100 things going through your mind at one time. The
frustration for me is when I know that I’m giving 100%, running 90 [miles per
hour], doing everything I can possibly do, and I have not been to the bathroom in 10
hours, haven’t even thought about the possibility of a lunch break—that was out of
my mind a long time ago—and you’re busting your tail end and people are still unhappy.
Patients are not receiving the quality of care that they should receive. We have a lot
of patients who are on tube feeding and have diarrhea, sometimes constantly, sometimes
around the clock. It takes more than one person to do the cleaning, and I find it really
frustrating trying to find other staff who could take a minute or two to help you out.