(photo credit: machon tal)
The increasing role nurses play in medical care has developed over the past decade without being recognized by the public. With a national nursing shortage looming, this lack of recognition must be corrected immediately.
Nurses today administer complex treatment from bone marrow transplantation to monitoring neonate nutrition. In addition, they are involved in running evidence-based research studies and heading public health programs. Despite the complexity of their work, they continue to maintain the caring relationships with patients that yield work satisfaction. In this period of economic instability, nursing offers steady employment. As baby boomers age, the need for nurses will skyrocket.
Despite all these advantages, far too few women and men consider nursing careers. In the past two years, fewer qualified students are choosing nursing, while majors with no job security and less job satisfaction are overcrowded. According to health officials, Israel will have an 18% shortage of nurses by 2020, crippling the system's ability to provide quality health care. The State Comptroller's Report for 2009 also notes the dire consequences of such a shortfall. The Health Ministry's initiatives of offering nursing scholarships of up to 80% is a good start, but cannot solve the deeper problem of a lack of professional opportunities and paltry pay.
The four-year nursing programs in Israel are renowned for producing high-level professionals. But nurses are frequently disappointed by the low salaries and difficult conditions.
Americans have faced these challenges for years, trying to cope with the enormous negative impact the shortage of nurses has had on the US health care system. Israel has the benefit of learning from America's mistakes as well as some recent effective solutions.
A PUBLIC AWARENESS campaign to showcase the nurse as an invaluable professional must begin. Hadassah began building Israel's medical care foundation with the mission of two American Jewish nurses to Jerusalem in 1913. Later, we overcame resistance to open the first nursing school in 1918. Today, we are already responding to the nursing crisis. We recently initiated the Campaign for Nursing's Future, an effort comprised of several programs to encourage young men and women to choose a profession that desperately needs their talents.
I encourage other organizations to join the efforts of Hadassah and others in addressing the issue. There must also be graduate scholarships for nursing educators in order to grow faculty. And more financial support is needed to support clinical and scientific research, a backbone for any educated health care professional.
Students will be attracted to participate by opening a nurse practitioner program, which has been so successful in the United States. These graduates have enhanced the ability of the system to provide quality of care. Nurse practitioners benefit from greater responsibility and are trained in the diagnosis and management of common as well as complex medical conditions.
If nothing is done, Israelis, like Americans, will find themselves without the professional resources necessary to keep a nation healthy. Citizens will find their care compromised. And when that happens, it will take even longer to correct the problem.
The writer is national president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.