Poll reveals consumer attitudes about nursing
Ever wonder what patients, friends, and neighbors think about nursing? A Harris Poll asked about the public’s perceptions of nursing as a profession, what nurses do, and how nurses are educated. The results revealed attitudes that experts say could have far-reaching effects on health and education policy decisions in the next decade.
NurseWeek/HealthWeek and Sigma Theta Tau International, a 250,000-member honor society of nursing, based in Indianapolis, commissioned the public opinion poll, conducted by Louis Harris & Associates Inc. in June. More than 1,000 people nationwide were surveyed.
When They Grow Up
Using a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very pleased and 1 being very displeased, how pleased would you be if your son or daughter said that he or she wanted to become a registered nurse?
Happy to hear it
As the nursing shortage builds, some experts have wondered whether the public’s attitudes about nursing could diminish the number of new recruits into the profession. Yet the poll showed that most respondents would be just as happy if their sons or daughters said they wanted to become a nurse as if they chose to become a teacher. In fact, having children opt for a career as a lawyer, journalist, or police officer would make poll respondents less happy than if their children chose nursing. Overall, 85 percent of those polled said they would be pleased if their son or daughter became a registered nurse
Put Your Trust In …
In general, how much do you trust information about health care provided by each of the following:
An overwhelming majority of the public—92 percent—said they trust information about health care provided by registered nurses, ranking nurses just 1 percentage point below physicians. Nurses ranked higher than teachers or journalists. Only 2 percent of respondents said they didn’t trust healthcare information “at all” when it’s provided by physicians or registered nurses..
Some nurses think even the small difference in the degree of trust between physicians and nurses is worrisome. “I see a challenge in the data, and I’d like to see the rating of trust equal to physicians, or even greater,” said Pamela Klauer Triolo, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior vice president and chief nursing executive at The Methodist Hospital in Houston. “We have to ask ourselves, Why is it that patients don’t trust us as much as physicians?”
When asked about the number of years of schooling they thought nurses should have after high school, 76 percent of the respondents said four years or more were necessary. Three out of 10 said nurses should have five to 10 years of education beyond high school. Respondents on both ends of the education spectrum—those with only a high school education as well as those who have done postgraduate work—said nurses need more than four years of college to do their jobs.
Schooling for the Job
Given what you know about nursing and what nurses do, how many years of schooling do you think nurses should have after they have completed high school? (Partial results)
“The public recognizes the increased technology and the complexity of health care and that you have to be smart to have a degree behind you,” said Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN, director of the Harvard Nursing Research Institute and assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Nursing needs to trade on the public’s trust and on our information [about the coming workforce needs] and get state and federal legislation to subsidize nursing education where they can.”
By 2000, the Department of Health and Human Services projects there will be 596,000 registered nurses with BSNs, with a need for 854,000 baccalaureate nurses. It’s projected that there will be 175,000 nurses with five or more years of education, with a need for 377,000 in the healthcare system. Projections for 2010 and 2020 continue to show great disparities between the level of education nurses will have and what will be needed. Entry-level BSN enrollment has fallen 6.6 percent from a year ago, dropping for the fourth year in a row, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in Washington.
Some think the Harris Poll reveals a big gap between what consumers think nurses know and what they actually bring to the bedside. “Clearly, the public expects and supports baccalaureate education as entry into practice,” said Marjorie Barter, EdD, RN, associate professor and chair, graduate programs, at the University of San Francisco. Barter, who chairs the professional practice committee for the Association of California Nurse Leaders (ACNL), thinks nursing organizations need to mobilize to make a bachelor’s degree mandatory for registered nurses, state by state, grandfathering in those who are currently practicing nursing but have not obtained college degrees. The ACNL is working to make a BSN the entry into practice by 2010, she said.
What Do You Do All Day?
As far as you know, do registered nurses:
You do what?
The poll also revealed the public’s lack of understanding of the full scope of nursing roles. When asked about specific duties of registered nurses, the public recognized that nurses monitor care and provide counseling to patients, but were less aware that many nurses routinely diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication. While 91 percent said nurses monitor the condition of patients and 69 percent said nurses provide counseling to patients, only 34 percent thought nurses diagnose health conditions, and just 23 percent said nurses decide on treatments for patients. “This data indicates the need to develop image and media campaigns that show advanced roles of nursing and to market those roles,” Buerhaus said.
Asked about the emerging nursing shortage, more than half of Americans believe the quality of health care is affected “a great deal” by a shortage of nurses. The poll indicates the public is very concerned about how the availability of nurses will affect their health care. Triolo thinks this data poses a tremendous challenge for nurses in marketing their work to potential nursing students. “In terms of the desirability of the profession, there’s a challenge for us here,” she said. “We are our own worst enemy when it comes to talking [disparagingly] about our profession outside the hospital.”
Worried About the Shortage?
Many people believe that there is currently a shortage of nurses in the United States.
How much, do you think, is the quality of health care that people in this country receive affected by a shortage of nurses?
Buerhaus said he thinks the high percentage of people who would be happy if their son or daughter chose nursing reflects the public’s core belief in the future demand for nurses. “Nursing is not seen as a glamorous profession or one that commands a high income,” he said. “But the public is smart. There’s an underlying concern that the economy could worsen. They’ve heard about the coming shortage, and they anticipate earnings will rise and jobs in nursing will be plentiful.”