Nursing as a Profession and Its Status Term Paper

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Nursing profession is among the oldest in history. Currently, there is much debate that surrounds the profession because of the need for more trained nurses. In recent years the nursing shortage has become a major problem for the medical profession and has resulted in poor patient care and slower patient recover. The purpose of this discussion is to provide an in depth examination of the nursing profession. We will discuss the current state of the nursing profession, including the causes for the shortage and the solution. We will also explore the status of the nursing profession in Australia. Let us begin our discussion by providing a comprehensive definition of what is means to be a nurse.

Definition of a nurse

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a nurse is defined as " a person trained to care for the sick or disabled under the supervision of a physician." (American Heritage Dictionary, 1982) The Journal of the Association of Preoperative Nurses explains that a nurse is also an advocate for the patient and ensures that the patient will receive adequate and appropriate attention. (Jardin, 2001) The journal also explains that the profession has been inundated with political and ethical issues that have forced nurses to take their advocacy to a higher plateau. Jardin (2001) writes,

The political-ethical dilemma for nurses primarily is perceived rather than actual. This ethical dilemma is related to outdated images of nursing, repression, fear of power, and lack of knowledge. Many guidelines exist to help nurses understand why they should get involved in the political process and determine where emphasis should be placed on public policy issues. By using these guidelines and an ethical framework for political decision-making, nurses can evaluate issues and use a valid method to assess problems, plan for action, and evaluate the effectiveness and benefits of those strategies." (Jardin, 2001)

In today's medical environment nurses often find themselves fighting for the rights of patients that are uninsured or underinsured. Inadequate health insurance can greatly affect a nurse's ability to adequately care for patients. For this reason, many nurses have entered into the political environment as lobbyists on behalf of their patients. Many nurses have urged politicians to ensure healthcare for all citizens.

Current Status of Nursing Profession


Currently the nursing profession is in dire straits because of the nursing shortage that the medical community is experiencing. According to State Legislature Magazine the nursing shortage has reached epidemic proportions. The article explains that there are currently 126,000 unfilled nursing positions in America's hospitals and this number is expected to grow to 400,000 by the year 2020. (Goodwin 2002) This shortage is beginning to have a profound effect upon patient care and recovery. In many cases there are not enough nurses to adequately care for patients which increases the amount of time that it takes for patient recovery.

Causes for the Shortage

Experts contend that there are a number of causes for the nursing shortage that currently exist. The main causes for the shortage seem to be;

large percentage of nurses that are reaching retirement age and aging population-

It is estimated that the average age for nurses is currently 45.2 and there are not an adequate number of students to replace them when they retire. (Goodwin 2002)

The nursing shortage is also a result of an aging population which will gradually require an increasing amount of medical care. (Goodwin 2002)

Disinterest among younger people to enter the profession-

Young people are disinterested in a career in the nursing profession.

Instead, many students are opting to into profession that pay more and have more opportunities for advancement.

Lower wages that many other professions-

Nurses make less than individuals in many other professions and work longer hours.

People opt to go into professions that pay more and have more opportunities for advancement.

Poor benefits and bad working conditions

Nurses in many states are forced to work mandatory overtime, which often interferes with their personal lives.

State Legislature Magazine asserts,

Recent studies suggest that nurses are not satisfied in their jobs. About 30% of nurses say they are dissatisfied in their current position, according to the 2000 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. This is higher than levels seen in other kinds of jobs. Nurses working in hospitals and nursing homes have an even lower job satisfaction than all nurses...A 2001 American Nurses Association survey of nurses found that 75% of those surveyed believed that the quality of nursing where they work had declined in the past two years, and 56% said that the time they have for patients has decreased." (Goodwin 2002)

Solutions to the Problem

There are no easy answers for the problems that the nursing profession is currently facing. One of the most obvious solutions is to increase the number of students that choose to become nurses. Though thus sounds simple, it is a rather arduous task that many institutions are having a difficult time attaining. Some institutions have begun to offer scholarships, loans and grants to students that choose to attain degrees in nursing. Additionally, some states offer tuition reimbursement to nursing students. Another approach that some states have taken is to offer nursing programs at community colleges. They also offer nursing students child care and transportation to classes.

Another approach is to improve the working conditions for nurses. As we stated previously, one of the major complaints of nurses is mandatory overtime. Many states have worked to prohibit mandatory overtime for nurses in an effort to improve working conditions.

In addition, some states have instituted programs that protect nurses if they choose to report unethical or unsafe conditions in the workplace. Nurse staffing plans have also been instituted in some states to ensure that nurse to patient ratios are at a safe level. Appropriate nurse to patient ratio ensures that nurse are not overworked and that patients receive adequate care.

Nurses in Australia

According to the Journal of Australian History, the nursing profession has evolved greatly in the country over the past century. Bashford (1997) explains that the nursing profession in Australia has been historically dominated by women. The article explains that nurses had a difficult time convincing men that nursing is a profession. The author writes, women who wished to think of their work in terms of a trade, and as 'labour', also had difficulties in making this 'fit' their femininity. As one nurse put it: 'The "labour" man who advocates big pay for his services is the first to cry down pay for women or the use of brains. A Nurse is always cleanly attired, so is thought to have a lazy life... As a labour man he worked eight hours and we were working 12 hours each." (Bashford 1997)

According to the Medical journal of Australia, today the nursing profession in Australia is composed mostly of individuals who have received a liberal arts education. Some have completed certificate programs and acquired diplomas. (Hamilton & Percival 1996) The journal explains that there are 34 Universities and colleges in the country that convert nursing certificates and diplomas into degrees after students have completed the appropriate coursework. The journal also states that many nurses are now seeking graduate degrees and the number of doctorates awarded to nurses has increased dramatically. (Hamilton & Percival 1996)

The authors explain that the amount of nurses in the country has created new challenges for the medical system. The journal contends that,

The expansion of the nurse's role is challenging the existing statutory limitations on nursing practice. For example, nurses in intensive care units are at the cutting edge of technological innovation and often undertake activities once thought to be the sole province of medical practitioners. Nurses in remote areas have long been expected to act outside the boundaries of the nurse's role and have articulated the case for an expanded role (e.g., the right to prescribe some medications or to order pathological tests). Further, nurses in women's health services in most States and Territories find the absence of such rights (including also the right to refer clients to specialist services) prevents delivery of optimal patient care." (Hamilton & Percival 1996)


The purpose of this discussion was to provide an in depth examination of the nursing profession. We began our discussion by providing a comprehensive definition of what is means to be a nurse. Our research concluded that nurses provide patients with medical care under the supervision of a doctor. We discussed the current state of the nursing profession, including the causes for the shortage and the solution. Our investigation found that the shortage of nurses is due to a number of factors including; an aging nursing force, lack of interest in the profession and poor work conditions. We concluded that the solution to the problem lies with the ability to recruit nursing students and improving nursing conditions. We also explored the status of the nursing profession in Australia. We found that nurses in Australia worked hard to establish nursing as a profession and that…[continue]

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