Nurses are No. 1 in honesty and ethics — again

After two years of pandemic, two years in which health care providers have literally been on the front lines of the war against COVID-19, nurses are still the most trusted professionals, according to the 2022 Gallup annual rating.

Each year, Gallup asks Americans for their perceptions of honesty and ethics among 22 occupations. And this year, for the 20th straight year, nurses lead the list, with 81% of respondents saying they have high or very high standards of honesty and ethics. Medical doctors and pharmacists ranked second and fourth, respectively.

As a longtime critical care nurse and now a patient advocate, I find this ranking very meaningful to a profession that's seen both its brightest and darkest hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when “we were all in this together?” Entire communities would stand outside hospitals and applaud health care workers for their tireless work. But as the pandemic dragged on, nurses began to experience burnout due to long hours, lack of personal protective equipment, short staffing and a growing skepticism among the public of what it will take to manage the spread of coronavirus.

Typically, nursing schools graduate 188,000 new nurses each year, but by their second year in the workforce, 33% quit due to burnout, according to IntelyCare, a nursing agency.

There are 4.3 million registered nurses in the U.S. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 500,000 RNs and licensed practical nurses will quit in 2022, creating a shortage of more than 1 million nurses. Nurses are the No. 1 link between physicians and their patients, so this statistic scares me. Who is going to be at the patient's bedside?

But nurses have a passion for what they do, and those who are hanging on are hopeful changes are coming to help them gain more control of their careers and feel supported by their co-workers and managers.

They also hope the health care landscape will change as a result of the pandemic, but there are no easy solutions to burnout and the growing shortage of nurses. Federal and private sectors need to work with nurses and seek their input for solutions. Hospitals, by far the largest employers of nurses, have to take a hard look at their staffing practices, pay and working environments if this problem is ever to be addressed.

For an example of what nursing could be like, a Northwestern Medicine site in the Northwest suburbs received high marks earlier this month from Nurse Journal based on hospital ratings, mortality measures, nursing communication and staff responsiveness. “Nurses practice under an Interprofessional Practice Model that stresses patient outcomes, nursing practice and an environment of shared leadership and decision-making,” the journal noted. Nurses enjoy shared governance, including councils that address leadership, research, professional development, quality and safety, peer review and night shift concerns.

I experience the nursing crisis every day in my practice as a patient advocate. At the majority of hospitals, there are simply not enough nurses these days to provide adequate care to patients.

As a patient advocate, I still have the best part of nursing: the satisfaction of providing excellent care to my clients. Patient advocates, though, are also there to help front-line health care professionals including nurses. We are their eyes and ears when they don't have the time they need to assess a patient's care needs.

For patient advocates to play a larger role in the health care system, we need more of them, which is why I encourage nurses who are ready to leave the profession to consider becoming patient advocates.

What can you do?

Health care consumers (and that's everyone) play a small but important role in helping to make nurses' lives better. How do you do that? It's simple, really. When you're in the hospital, don't take your nurses for granted. Even though you're not feeling your best, try hard to be considerate and polite when asking for help.

Be honest with them about how you're feeling. And don't complain when they have to wake you up at 4 a.m. to get your blood pressure and check your medications.

We are all indebted to the nurses in our communities for their courage, commitment and expertise. Being No. 1 in the Gallup poll is a nice honor. I hope the coming years will bring more concrete improvements to the nursing profession.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( Nurses interested in becoming professional advocates can visit or call Teri at (847) 612-6684.

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