By Elizabeth George
As the pandemic wanes, Americans have noticed the alarming shortage of medical staff, particularly nurses, in the healthcare system. While this shortage has been growing for over a decade, it was amplified during COVID when thousands of patients died due to insufficient staffing in hospitals, leaving many to wonder its cause.
“The COVID-19 epidemic brutally exposed the weaknesses of the US medical system...”
The demand for healthcare staff has been rising due to the increasing elderly population and nursing schools struggling to increase their capacity. Students entering the nursing profession often compete for a program with a limited number of seats, making the process even more selective. Additionally, this shortage has led to more undesirable work circumstances, such as nurses being overworked, burning out and often receiving lower pay. These factors have caused many nurses to leave their jobs, worsening the shortage further. Particularly, in densely-populated areas, such as New York City, hospitals struggle with extremely high patient-to-nurse ratios and often turn away or waitlist patients they are unable to treat.
Finding no other solution, over 7,000 nurses in the Mount Sinai and Montefiore hospital
systems in NYC organized a strike and walked off their jobs the morning of Monday, January 9. This marked the beginning of a three-day strike that ended in an agreement between nurses and their employing hospitals to increase their salaries by 20% over a three-year period and to increase staffing to reduce overworked nurses. Smaller strikes have been occurring across the US, including those in Chicago and cities in California. Notably, California remains the only US state with mandated nurse-to-patient ratio laws in hospitals. These strikes have sparked controversy across the nation, with many people believing that nurses walking out of their jobs are endangering patients by straining the hospital resources and staff further.
Senior Kristen Schneider, who plans to pursue nursing, shared her opinion on the strikes.
“I think the strike was definitely a step in the right direction for the future of the profession,” Schneider said. “I don’t think the strike put the patients in more danger due to the travel nurses that were there to fill in, and I think the strike will help patients for a long time to come. There shouldn’t be an unsafe patient-to-nurse ratio, but that’s exactly what there was. I think it will help patients not only in the few hospitals that nurses were striking in but all around the country.”
Artwork by Saffah Azeem
Triggered by the poor pandemic conditions, overworked and exhausted nurses go on strike.
“While I do feel upset that many members of the medical community have been left with no choice but to walk-out on their jobs, I agree with the effectiveness of their decisions,” senior Ruth Solomon said. “In order to get the attention of the hospital administrators, nursing schools, insurance companies and legislators, nurses will have to make their voices known as a collective group so that they are not ignored.”
“The COVID-19 epidemic brutally exposed the weaknesses of the US medical system,” senior Ayesha Rashid said. “I had heard that hospitals were extremely understaffed, and that this often caused nurses to come down with COVID and spread the virus further, since they were pressured to remain at work. This problem could no longer be overlooked; people died because of it. I think the general public recognized this and is now starting to take firmer actions. So yes, I have great hope that the nursing shortage will improve in the future.”
“I think this situation puts me more at ease for my future in the medical field,” Schneider said. “I'm glad that they’re working things out now and creating a safe environment both for the providers and the patients.”