It’s unusual for Emma Cooper, a nurse who cares for women after giving birth, to take pride in the work she does every day.

«Having a patient sit across from me crying because they feel like they haven’t been taught how to feed their baby is very upsetting,» said Cooper, of Portland, Maine.

The explanation for the lapse in orientation is simple: «None of us had time.» Cooper and his nursing colleagues at the Maine Medical Center have so many patients that they can’t adequately focus on any one, he said.

Nurses across the country are overworked, overburdened with patients, and quite frankly, over everything. There are not enough nurses in the workforce to alleviate the problem.

And it’s younger nurses, like Cooper, 27, who are sounding the alarm.

«Imagine pushing yourself to the max every day at work and barely scratching the surface of usefulness,» Cooper said. «So you get in your car and cry.»

Physically and emotionally exhausted

Cooper’s frustrations mirror the findings of a survey posted last week of more than 18,200 registered nurses. The survey by AMN Healthcare, a health care staffing agency, was littered with evidence of an exhausted and stressed nursing population.

«Our survey data illustrates the growing dissatisfaction and wellness struggles among nurses, and the workforce challenges this is increasing,» Landry Seedig, AMN Healthcare’s chief operating officer, said in an email to NBC. News.

The findings show a recent drop in job satisfaction that has remained above 80% for a decade. In 2023, 71% of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their nursing career.

Younger nurses were much less satisfied with their careers and jobs compared to older generations, and less likely to recommend the job to others. Only 42% of Gen Zers and 43% of millennials said they would encourage their peers to pursue nursing as a career, compared to 62% of baby boomers.

But signs of dissatisfaction were evident in most of the nurses surveyed.

More than three-quarters said they felt emotionally drained, up from 62% in 2021. And 70% of those surveyed in 2023 said they worried their job was dangerous to their health, compared to 51% during the peak of the pandemic in 2021.

The latest survey also showed that more than half of the nurses surveyed felt unappreciated and often felt like quitting.

Among the biggest problems say the nurses, it is the large number of patients they must attend to each day.

Spencer Paddyaker, 28, is an ER nurse in the Dallas area. A typical shift has you seeing at least six patients at a time.

Each of those patients may need help at the same time. One needs help to get to the bathroom. Another has chest pain and is scared by what it means. Another patient has questions about the medications he has been prescribed.

«All of these things, piece by piece, are fine. It’s when they start happening all at once that it gets cumbersome,» Paddyaker said. «As you go to the person who is very sick or demand their attention right away, your other patients start to feel a little discouraged and abandoned.»

Emma Cooper addressed the Maine Legislature on May 4 to advocate for a bill that would require minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.United National Nurses

Last week, Cooper urged the Legislature in his home state of Maine to pass a bill that would establish minimum requirements for nurse to patient ratio. Cooper is involved with National Nurses United, a union that represents registered nurses.

The state does not have a law that limits the number of patients that each nurse can see during each shift. Only California has passed a law that establishes a minimum ratio of nurses to patients.

«We need more nurses at the bedside,» Cooper said. «My patients deserve better.»

Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, a 26-year nursing veteran and president of the American Nurses Association, recalls «working 12-hour shifts and not going to the bathroom or getting anything to drink.»

«That should never have been accepted as normal,» she said, adding that she is proud of this generation «for not putting up with what I put up with.»

“They hold us accountable for an environment that we allowed to happen for a long time,” Kennedy said.

Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the Ohio State University College of Nursing, said, «Nurses have a long history of taking very good care of others, but they often don’t prioritize their own care.»

«We have a population of about 5 million nurses that is generally not that healthy,» he said.

‘The nurses had no rest’

Job satisfaction among nurses was higher during the height of the pandemic than it is now. In 2021, 48% of nurses said they were «extremely satisfied» with their work, up from 33% in 2023, the AMN Healthcare survey showed.

“As the covid patients started to decline, we started to have people coming back to the hospital and putting off their medical treatments” during the pandemic, Kennedy said. «Now they are even sicker than they normally would have been. The nurses had no rest.»

Nearly 9 in 10 nurses said the nursing shortage is worse than it was five years ago, the survey found. Nearly all respondents, 94%, said there is a severe or moderate shortage of nurses in their area.

National Nurses United resists the idea of ​​a true shortage.

«There is just a shortage of nurses willing to work in environments that put their licenses and the safety of their patients at risk,» the union wrote in a news release.

In January, thousands of nurses in New York City went on strike, demanding in part a staff increase to alleviate shortages being felt across the country.

Cooper, who is part of a union, said that while she has the deepest admiration for her health care coworkers, she and her coworkers deserve time and flexibility to focus on their patients.

She has advice for other nurses frustrated with their workload.

«Stand up, use your voice,» Cooper said. «You already know how to be an advocate; you do it every day for your patients. It’s time you did it for yourself.»

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