Nationally, a critical nursing shortage looms. In addition to the fact that nurses are increasingly in short supply, the aging of the nursing profession combines to present a daunting challenge to the healthcare field. Exactly why students may not be choosing the nursing profession in adequate numbers is not known. However, several factors inherent to nursing are suspected. For example, the strong likelihood of experiencing severe occupational injuries (i.e., back injury) or illnesses (i.e., occupational stress, or some blood borne pathogen) or workplace violence, which nurses face daily, are arguably primary motivators for nurses to leave the profession, thus adding to the shortage. Presumably, the safety of nurses themselves and subsequently, that of their patients, depend directly on the degree to which nurses can identify and control the varied occupational hazards specific to jobs. This study reviews the nature and scope of occupational nursing hazards and the degree to which current nursing education and position descriptions equip nurses to recognize and abate the hazards inherent in their jobs. Further, it will present a research design that addresses the lack of formal training nurses currently receive regarding job-related hazard recognition and avoidance strategies.
It is widely acknowledged that nurses are crucial component of the US healthcare system, holding about 2.3 million jobs (U.S. Department of Labor, 2004). Nurses are employed in essentially every kind of healthcare setting. The wide range of practice settings include public health (national, state and county level), skilled nursing facilities, community based residential care centers, hospitals (public, private and teaching), clinics, urgent care centers, offices, industrial (occupational) settings and home healthcare. Nurses are often the linchpin component across a wide continuum of care. A nurse's professional skills and training contribute significantly to successful patient outcomes in a variety of care settings--from acute and tertiary care to prevention and wellness programs. It is therefore no surprise that the acquisition and development of a nurse's skill set and its application across healthcare settings require advance and detailed educations from accredited and standardized curricula, as well as professional credentialing procedures.
The purpose of this paper is to investigate two empirical questions: 1) the degree to which occupational safety and health control strategies are taught in accredited nursing schools, and 2) the degree to which nursing position descriptions incorporate occupational hazard recognition and control by nurses, supervisors and administrators.
This paper is organized as follows: First, we briefly summarize the research literature regarding nursing occupational hazards. Second, we discuss the current nursing educational requirements followed by our report on a systematic analysis of several Veterans Affairs (VA) Emergency Department (ED) position descriptions (PDs), an analysis designed to examine the degree to which safety is considered a formal part of the VA ED nurses' PD. Finally, this paper will describe a research design intended to create an administrative outcome that will enhance the nurse's ability to protect her or him from identified job hazards.