Ursula: We aren’t doing enough for nurses, who are leaving in droves

Oct 17, 2023, 7:00 AM | Updated: 9:01 am

Image: Charge nurse Liliana Palacios makes a phone call while nurse Rocky Dixon, left, plans patien...

Charge nurse Liliana Palacios makes a phone call while nurse Rocky Dixon, left, plans patient care at the nurses station in the acute care COVID unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on May 7, 2020. (Photo: Karen Ducey, Getty Images)

(Photo: Karen Ducey, Getty Images)

TRIGGER WARNING: Please note that this column includes content about suicide.

After a few trips to the ER this past year, I’ve come to realize nurses truly are angels here on Earth. During my hospitalization last February for pancreatitis, the nurses at the UW Medical Center in Seattle worked tirelessly to manage my horrendous pain while juggling many other patients who also needed their undivided attention. As tired and stretched as they were, the nurses were compassionate and never made me feel like I was a bother if I asked them for help.

That’s why it breaks my heart to hear about so many nurses who feel burned out, overworked, underpaid and unsafe. Many are leaving the profession, and, tragically, in some cases, they’re taking their own lives.

Tristin Kate Smith, 28, was an emergency department nurse from Dayton, Ohio, who took her own life last August. After her death, her parents found a note she had written in March, titled “A Letter to My Abuser.” In it, she described how she dreamed of becoming a nurse because she wanted to make a difference and help people. But she said the joy and love she had for her profession had been sucked out of her by a hostile work environment that puts profit above all else.

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She wrote nurses were making mistakes because of poor staffing, overwork and exhaustion and they were often blamed for things that were out of their control.

“Each day, you ask me to do more with less,” Smith wrote. “You beat me to the point that my body and mind are black, bruised, and bleeding out.”

She added an apology, but only to a certain group of people.

“I’m only sorry to my patients and colleagues,” Smith added. “You deserve so much better, but my abusive partner is relentless. If I stay, I will lose my sanity — and possibly my life — forever.”

Her father, Ron Smith, shared her letter with the local newspaper, saying Tristin’s story needs to be told. He worries many other nurses around the country are also at their breaking point, like his daughter was, and he is calling for action.

Tristin’s letter has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Tik Tok, Facebook and Instagram, many times by nurses who say she is speaking for them and is accurately describing the nightmarish conditions at hospitals today.

And it’s only going to get worse.

A recent study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found at least 100,000 registered nurses left the workforce in the last two years because of high stress, burnout and retirements. Another 600,000 said they intend to leave in the next five years. “With a quarter of the population contemplating leaving the profession, the impact of the (COVID-19) pandemic may still be felt in the future,” the study says.

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We count on nurses to be there at our worst moments; to help us in our time of need; and to do whatever they can to keep us healthy and alive. WHAT ARE WE DOING TO HELP THEM? It’s time to join them in their fight to get safer workplaces, better nurse-to-patient ratios, and higher wages and call out the overpaid hospital administrators and insurance executives who are putting profits over people.

Editors’ note: You can read Tristin Kate Smith’s note called, “A letter to My Abuser” here.

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