Exploring Human Potential

Nurses and Doctors Together for the Good of the Patients

Posted on | June 3, 2008 | No Comments

It’s a very good thing…

What were the biggest challenges you faced as a patient in the hospital?  If you could change anything about your hospital experience what would it be?  Were there enough nurses and doctors on staff to care for you especially at night and on weekends?  Was there a team effort between nurses and doctors?

Did you know that medical mistakes do happen in hospitals?

Medical mistakes unfortunately do happen in hospitals and shockingly, 238,337 patients died from potentially preventable medical errors during 2004 through 2006, according to HealthGrades’ fifth annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study.

Hospitals have an increase in the number of errors on nights and weekends, and hospitals are fully aware of the existing problems.  Are hospitals putting the lives of patients at risk if they knowingly are aware that these problems exist and they do not attempt to correct these conditions?  Fortunately, hospitals have gotten the message that action is needed to keep patients safe and (alive).

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Hospitals Move To Reduce Risk Of Night Shift” by Laura Landro, the focus is on hiring “nocturnists” to help relieve this crisis of substandard care on weekends and nights. However I find this a bit disconcerting since this article paints a picture of hospitals that function typically with doctors and the solution to this crisis is additional nocturnists.  What about the nurses?

Anyone who has listened to me on the Health in 30™ radio show knows hospitals cannot exist with only doctors or only nurses, but instead it is a team effort of both doctors and nurses working together for the good of the patients.

Ronald M. Davis, MD, writes about the importance of the team approach, and credits nurses for their outstanding care.

According to Laura Landro:  “Of course, with rising medical costs and a shortage of nurses and doctors, hospital will never be a fully staffed on nights and weekends as they are during weekdays.”  She is right on target with that statement.   Then she writes, “Indeed, hospitals do quiet down at night, when patients sleep, support staff go home and a skeleton crew mans many units.  But that’s also the time when dangerous delays in care can occur for patients.”  Let’s stop here for a moment.  During my nursing career I’ve rotated to the night shift many times and I can see how the assumption can be made that since it is night, patients sleep and it is quiet.  Let me emphasize that this is simply not the situation.  It is not quiet and for the most part patients do not sleep, and even if patients are sleeping that doesn’t mean they are not cared for; assessments and treatments continue regardless of this. It is true that support staff goes home and there are skeleton crews; and with the shortage of both doctors and nurses mistakes can happen.

Both doctors are nurses are needed in hospitals.  Nurses are responsible for the well-being of their patients around-the-clock, and just because it is night doesn’t mean continuous care stops.  Nurses are committed to provide quality patient care. Nurses assess, plan, implement and evaluate their patients.  They continuously observe patients and teach patients, nurses consult with doctors and other members of the health care team, and not only do they provide physical care, they are a pillar in providing emotional care.  The constant eyes of nurses are needed to keep patients safe on a 24/7 basis.  With the current nursing shortage perhaps this article could have delved into this area a little more rather than focusing solely on nocturnists as the solution.

The idea of hiring nocturnists makes sense, but the major piece to this maze of chaos is to focus on nurses as well.  Even if hospitals get up to par with hiring enough nocturnists, with the shortage of nurses, who’s going to be there to provide care to these patients? Who’s going to question and carry out orders, provide treatments and offer support?  Who’s going to man the units?  Are hospitals failing?

A shattered system has hope of renewal and vitality.  Patients’ safety does not need to be compromised.  A culture of denial cannot be prevalent; if a system is failing, it needs to be fixed.  It is unacceptable to endanger the lives of patients.  There is a system in need of more staff; both physicians and nurses, now it is a matter for the folks in charge to make this happen.

Readers, what has your experience been like?  Have you been a patient in a hospital or the family member of a loved one?  Do you feel your treatment and care can be carried out solely by physicians?  Do you feel a team effort is needed to provide you with the best care and treatment?  Describe your experiences. Were your needs met right away?  How would you describe the physicians who cared for you?  How would you describe the nurses who cared for you?  Are you always proactive in your health care?  Do you speak up and ask questions if you do not understand something?  Do you feel intimidated to ask questions?

(Barbara Ficarra is a registered nurse, executive producer & host of a Health in 30™ a live radio show, founder of and award-winning journalist.  Barbara can be reached at


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