Andrew J. Johnson, APRN, CRNA, grew up in a rural area and always knew that it was the exact type of setting where he wanted to work. As the sole anesthesia provider for a critical access hospital in Olivia, Minnesota, Johnson loves what he does. But he does face quite a lot of challenges.
He took some time to tell us about his work. What follows is an edited version of our interview.
What kind of work do you do?
I am the sole anesthesia provider for our critical access hospital. I opened a pain clinic at our facility because access to care for those suffering with chronic pain was lacking. Fortunately, I was able to find an incredible mentor, Keith Barnhill, to teach me chronic pain management. I was then accepted into the post master’s advanced pain certificate program through Hamline University. The pain clinic has definitely benefitted our community.
I also provide anesthesia for obstetrics, emergency room, and surgical cases including general, podiatry, gynecological, ENT, orthopedics, and urology. In 2017, we became the first critical access hospital in Minnesota to get a Da Vinci surgical robot. This has definitely increased the number and complexity of general surgical cases we are able to do at our facility. We have been performing total hip and knee replacements the last 2 years, which was a much-needed service in our community.
Working in a rural area is quite different from what most nurses do. Have you worked in a more urban or suburban area before this? If so, how does working in a rural area differ from those places? If the facility you work in large or small?
Rural anesthesia is much different from that in urban and suburban facilities. Although the anesthesia doesn’t change, the number of resources available to trouble shoot and help in difficult situations is severely limited. I have always found that the toughest decision I make is what cases I shouldn’t perform at my facility.
What kinds of patients do you tend to see? How are they different from those you saw in a more urban setting?
I feel like the patients and staff have closer relationships in small communities. We all know each other, and many times are related to each other. I hear weekly from patients that they feel so comfortable knowing I will be doing their anesthesia because of our relationships in the community.
What have you learned from working as a nurse in a rural area?
There are many individuals and organizations that want to limit scope of practice for advanced practice nurses, especially nurse anesthetists, and thereby limit access to care for rural comminutes. It is easy to get busy with work and family and lose track of the politics of anesthesia, but it is vitally important to stay vigilant about what is going on in the medical and political arena.
Because it’s a rural setting, do you tend to know more of the patients or their families, as in a small-town? Do you get a lot of patients who have to travel a long way to get to you? How many miles might some patients travel? Are people ever helicoptered in? Brought by ambulance? How far?
I know most of the patients that I see for anesthesia and pain injections. In a town with a population of about 2,500, it is no surprise to run into people I have seen in the community. Most patients do not need to travel more than 45 miles to see us. There are about six hospitals in a 45-mile radius of Olivia. Some of these facilities provide a higher level of care, so we are able to transport to these facilities if we are unable to provide the level of care needed. For bad traumas, often the flight crews will land at the scene of the accident and evacuate the patient from the scene instead of delaying high-level care by coming through our emergency room. Certainly, there are times when these patients need to come to our emergency room for stabilization prior to transport.
What are the biggest challenges of working in a rural setting?
Call is always tough in rural settings. If can be tough to achieve a work/life balance because of the need to be available and within call range of the hospital. Because of this, my family has several hobbies that we can do together on our acreage including gardening, yard work, blacksmithing, exercising, hunting, and sports.
What are the greatest rewards?
It’s fun to be recognized in the community by patients that have been through the surgery department or pain clinic. They are appreciative of being able to be cared for in their hometown where they have friends and family to help with their recovery. I feel that community recognition makes it easier for my family to accept me not being home. My wife and kids can become frustrated with me getting called to work, but when they find out later I was helping one of their friends, they understand the importance of my job and are happy that I do what I do.
What would you say to someone considering moving to work in a rural area? What do they need to be willing to do or deal with?
Deciding to work in a rural facility is not a decision that can be made lightly. It is not just a job, but a lifestyle. My family has to take two vehicles to the movies, dinner, church, etc. Calling in sick to work is not an option. There is no additional help when emergencies arise.
Personally, I think there is no better place to raise a family that in a rural community, but I may be a little biased. To work in the setting, confidence is an absolute requirement. Someone will always try to challenge your decisions. As long as you can always make decisions with the patient’s best interest in mind, you will have the respect of your medical staff, and this will make for a satisfying career.
Also, you can’t decide not to see particular patients because there are no other options. As an example, I had to do the anesthesia for my wife’s caesarian section. I had someone hired to do her case, but her water broke a week before her schedule C-section. Another example of an interesting rural experience is when the locum I had hired to do my colonoscopy got the schedule confused and didn’t show up for the day. I had to do anesthesia for 6 procedures and was finally able to get someone to do my anesthesia in the afternoon.
In March 2016, Sutter Health and WellSpace Health started The Street Nurse Program. Funded by Sutter Health, the program is geared to meet the needs of an underserved population—those affected by homelessness—in Sacramento, California. To date, it has helped more than 200 people who have received access to on-site care, medical advice, disease management education, and wound care.
Amanda Buccina, RN, BSN, is the program’s sole nurse. While they are looking to expand the program, Buccina is making a huge difference in the meantime on her own. “I’m happy to be selected as the first nurse in this role. I was previously in a position managing Medicaid case management programs for a large managed care corporation,” explains Buccina. “When I saw the street nurse job description, it sounded like a great opportunity and one that aligned with my experiences. For the first time in a long time, I felt excited and inspired by a nursing role, so I knew that it was the right opportunity to pursue.”
According to Sutter Health, The Street Nurse Program provides a vital piece in the continuum of care, with programs and partners seamlessly working together to provide a whole health stability model for the most vulnerable among us.
“The Street Nurse Program is an effort to provide an access point into a traditionally very guarded population, enabling us to start linking the homeless to the services they desperately need,” says Buccina.
Oftentimes, those affected by homelessness won’t come to clinics. As Buccina says, “Working with this population, you have to be willing to meet people where they are.”
A great deal of her job involves building relationships. “I work to build trust and rapport with my clients so even if they don’t need me in that exact moment, we have a relationship and familiarity with one another. This comes in [handy] when clients do want and need support, like medical advice, an advocate at a doctor’s appointment, help getting into an alcohol or drug rehab program, or just general wound care,” explains Buccina. “Sometimes, honestly, they just want someone to listen to them–that there is somebody who is consistent and that they trust. If they know someone is invested in them, it makes it slightly more likely they will be invested in themselves.”
Buccina finds it touching when her clients let her into their lives. “They don’t have to let me into their world at all—and they do. It’s kind of like a window into their world. And if they trust me enough to help them,” she says, “it’s kind of a big deal.”
The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) has a rural health care immersion program where the focus of the curriculum is on disaster and crisis response. Their classroom discussions are usually hypothetical, but after a tornado hit northwestern Wisconsin in late May, nursing students in the rural health care program put their knowledge to the test by aiding in tornado relief efforts.
Clinical assistant professor Pamela Guthman was leading a team of seven nursing students in the Community and Public Health Immersion Clinical program in northwestern Wisconsin when a tornado hit nearby. Students were there to learn about the necessity of health care providers and health educators in rural and underserved communities.
The nursing students partnered with the American Red Cross to aid in recovery efforts, specifically those who were displaced after the tornado destroyed a trailer park. The students did not provide immediate medical attention, but they were able to help by interviewing people affected by the tornado, and providing those people with health and housing information. Guthman tells the Wisconsin State Journal,
“What we’re going to be doing is helping people who have been devastated by the loss of their homes. We know that housing is very closely related to a person’s mental health.”
The counties affected by the tornado have been under-resourced for a long time, creating a health disparity and lack of resources which makes it even harder for these communities to bounce back following a natural disaster. One of the goals of the rural health care immersion program is for students to learn a sensitivity for the challenges of rural communities. There is a need for both health care professionals working on acute crises and professionals focusing on prevention. Public health nurses are an essential part of the healthcare team in rural areas.
To learn more about the rural health care immersion program at UW-Madison and their service providing tornado relief aid, visit here.
California State University (CSU) nursing students are enrolled at 19 campuses across the state, all of which put an emphasis on putting students out into their communities right from the get-go. Students learn through clinical rotations in a multitude of settings like hospitals, schools, and community health services, putting their coursework to immediate use outside the classroom while working towards their degrees.
Christine Mallon, PhD, assistant vice chancellor for academic programs, tells Newswise.com, “The CSU has more than 8,100 students enrolled in a total of 79 nursing programs, encompassing various specializations across bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.”
After rolling out Graduation Initiative 2025, CSU nursing programs began increasing student efficiency and ethnic diversity which is now at 54% according to Mallon. The university system has also been working to streamline its nursing programs, reducing the units required for a four-year bachelor’s degree and developing courses that fulfill multiple requirements.
CSU has also put a focus on implementing the latest nursing technology, allowing students to practice in state-of-the-art simulation labs and get hands-on experience using EKG, electronic thermometers, blood pressure and fetal monitors, and high-fidelity mannequins. Nursing students are also highly prepared to pass their National Council Licensure Examinations (NCLEX) with a first-time pass rate exceeding the national average of 87%.
To learn more about CSU’s nursing programs and use of early clinical rotations to increase student learning and efficiency, visit here.
DailyNurse.com and Springer Publishing Company are pleased to announce the launch of our new podcast, NurseCasts! Hosted by Joe Morita, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Springer, NurseCasts is a podcast for nurses by nurses. Our goal is to help you understand issues in health care affecting nurses from how to advance your nursing career to understanding policies that might affect patient outcomes.
For our very first episode, we wanted to better understand what motivates nurses to join this fast-paced and fulfilling profession. In order to do so, we took our show on the road to interview attendees at the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) conference in Dallas, TX. We wanted to learn one thing from student nurses: “What motivated you to join this profession?”
Meet the student nurses you’ll hear from on this episode:
Kylee (LSUHSC School of Nursing, New Orleans, LA)
Emily (Messiah College, Mechanicsburg, PA)
Kimberly (Graceland University, Lamoni, IA)
Maria (University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL)
Chloe (Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, CA)
Roslyn (College of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, NV)
Danielle (Cedar Crest College, Allentown, PA)
Josh (Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA)
Mariah (Indian River State College, Fort Pierce, FL)
Jacqueline (Pace University, Pleasantville, NY)
Listen to our first episode below!
Episode 1: Why Are Students Choosing to Pursue Nursing?
Stethoscopes dangled around the necks of nurses wearing navy NursesTakeDC t-shirts and big smiles. “Where are y’all from? We’re from Arizona!” More than 800 nurses from 40 U.S. states congregated at the NursesTakeDC Rally on May 5th in Washington, DC. The rally was to support legislation establishing federally mandated requirements for safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, while drawing public attention to the staffing crisis in many U.S. hospitals. This was the second such rally; last May, the inaugural event drew about 250 participants to the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
The rally was cosponsored by the grassroots nursing movement Show Me Your Stethoscope, a group that formed spontaneously on Facebook after nurse Janie Harvey Garner watched The View host Joy Behar ask why a nurse in the Miss America pageant was wearing “a doctor’s stethoscope” around her neck. That group now has more than 650,000 members. Other rally sponsors and supporters included the Illinois Nurses Association, Hirenurses.com, Nursebuzz, The Gypsy Nurse, Century Health Services, and UAW Local 2213 Professional Registered Nurses.
The NursesTakeDC rally was originally scheduled to take place on the steps of the Capitol, but thunderstorms and downpours forced the meeting indoors at a hotel in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. Although the setting lacked symbolism, participants still raised handmade posters and shouted rally cries. Rally organizers estimated the weather had an impact on overall attendance, but they were still encouraged by the turnout. After the speakers wrapped up, a group of about 150 nurses headed to the U.S. Capitol steps for photographs and final thoughts.
© 2017 David Miller, RN
Two, Four, Six, Eight, Patient Safety Isn’t Fake
“We aren’t laughing, we want staffing!” Cheers and whistles erupted out of the crowd. After 10 minutes of rally cheers and chants, the gathering turned its attention to the first of many speakers who would highlight issues faced by nurses in every specialty and across the profession. Actress Brooke Anne Smith began by reciting a moving poem about nurse warriors on the front lines.
Event organizer Jalil Johnson then took the stage, giving a keynote speech that addressed the challenges bedside nurses face every day. He spoke about nurses as the foundation of health care, and the unrelenting pressure to perform in deteriorating conditions. While discussing dire staffing situations, Johnson said that he fought every day, “making sure I didn’t give anyone a reason to come after the license I had worked so hard for.”
He discussed the paradox that year after year, nurses are rated the most trusted profession, yet no one trusts nurses when they say they are overworked, overburdened, and practicing in unsafe conditions. Nurses alone are not enough to fight this battle, he said. “To the public, we say: Trust us when we say the industry makes it nearly impossible to deliver the care you need. Trust us when we say we need your support.”
Other NursesTakeDC rally speakers included Katie Duke, Terry Foster, Deena McCollum, Linda Boly, Julie Murray, Catherine Costello, Kelsey Rowell, Leslie Silket, Dan Walter, Nicole Reina, Monique Doughty, Doris Carroll, Charlene Harrod-Owuamana, Debbie Hickman, and Janie Harvey Garner.
The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act
On May 4th, the day before the rally, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) reintroduced the latest iterations of the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act (H.R. 2392 and S. 1063). The bills seek to amend the Public Health Service Act to establish registered nurse-to-patient staffing ratio requirements in hospitals.
In a press release, Rep. Schakowsky’s office writes: “This bill is about saving lives and improving the health of patients by improving nursing care—ensuring that there are adequate numbers of qualified nurses available to provide the highest possible care.” The press release acknowledges that study after study has shown that safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios result in better care for patients. “It’s time we act on the evidence and the demands of nurses who have been fighting to end to dangerous staffing,” the release continues. “I’m proud to be a partner with nurses across the country in promoting this bill and working to ensure quality care and patient safety.”
Rep. Schakowksy attended last year’s event, but was unable to attend this year. The Nurse Staffing Standards Act is the latest in a string of bills that have been introduced to Congress every session. Previous bills S. 864 and H.R.1602 died in committee last session. S. 864 was first introduced in May of 2009; H.R. 1602 was first introduced in 2004 and has been sponsored seven times so far. Rally co-chair Doris Carroll explained why: “The legislation is reintroduced session after session, and it continues to die in committee because there is no bipartisan support.”
In today’s environment, politics can be touchy. The day before the rally, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act of 2017. Among nurses there are very polarized viewpoints on health care, abortion, assisted suicide, and other controversial topics. In his speech, Johnson acknowledged that not all nurses think alike. “We are a profession divided,” he admitted. “But when it comes to safe staffing, we all agree. This is a movement devoid of partisanship. Staffing is not a partisan issue.”
The proposed text and ratios for the Nurse Staffing Standards Act are below:
A hospital would be required during each shift, except during a declared emergency, to assign a direct care registered nurse to no more than the following number of patients in designated units:
1 patient in an operating room and trauma emergency unit
2 patients in all critical care units, intensive care, labor and delivery, and post anesthesia units
3 patients in antepartum, emergency, pediatrics, step-down, and telemetry units
4 patients in intermediate care nursery, medical/surgical, and acute care psychiatric care units
5 patients in rehabilitation units
6 patients in postpartum (3 couplets) and well-baby nursery units
Rally speakers encouraged nurses to reach out to their representatives in Congress to show support for safe staffing legislation, and handouts for participants detailed how to find representative names and numbers for letter writing campaigns and phone calls.
Where Is Everybody?
When one of the speakers asked why there wasn’t more involvement in the grassroots movement, and why there weren’t more nurses present, several voices called back from the crowd. “Everyone’s working!” one shouted. Another called out, “They don’t have the money!”
“Really, where the heck is everybody else?” one rally participant said. She gestured to the conference room, which at the time held about 100 nurses. This nurse was part of a group attending from New Jersey, including Kate McLaughlin, a registered nurse and founder of NJ Safe Patient Ratios, a group dedicated to the support of safe staffing in New Jersey and promotion of ratio law S. 1280 in New Jersey’s Senate.
“In New Jersey, multiple bills have been introduced, every single session, and nothing ever passes,” McLaughlin said. “In California it was the same thing, and then the tenth year, they involved unions and patients and it finally worked.” She said she started to pay attention to safe staffing laws in her state, and launched a petition on change.org. “I stalked nurses on Facebook and found people that way,” she continued. “Each week, we organize and post the contact information for two state senators.” She is starting a movement in New Jersey, hoping to motivate others to show support for these bills. “It’s an election year,” she said. “Now is the time.”
McLaughlin said her state’s ratio law was first introduced in February 2016, but there has been no vote and no hearings, “which just feels disrespectful.” She was told the governor didn’t support the bill, and “that we might need to wait until there’s a new governor.”
The problem, according to several nurses at the rally, isn’t a lack of awareness. “I think it’s apathy,” McLaughlin said. “This is a profession of predominantly women, and we are taken advantage of. They know we don’t get breaks, but they’re okay with the labor law violations. We’ve somehow accepted that this is normal—this is not normal.”
Carroll also expressed discontent that no one seems to care about this issue. “Why has this taken so long? Why hasn’t California’s success spread like wildfire?” she asked. “Well, health care changed, and it became a multi-billion dollar business for hospitals and insurance companies.”
Dan Walter, another speaker, acknowledged that sometimes nurses do not report safety issues because they fear retribution. Walter is a former political consultant and publisher of HospitalSafetyReviews.com, a web site that he established for nurses to anonymously post about patient safety issues where they work. In his speech, he explained the inspiration for creating the site: “You are the activists and you know what needs to be done. I want people to be able to go there, post, and we will keep it as anonymous as possible so we can protect you.” He expressed hope that this web site will be a powerful platform to improve patient ratios.
How Bad Is Staffing?
Nurses from a hospital in downtown Washington, DC, expressed frustration with the lack of support and resources from hospital administrators. “The other day, we had so many critical patients in the department we ran out of monitors,” one said. Another said that 80% of the nurses who work in her hospital’s emergency department have less than two years’ experience. “The turnover is so high,” she said. “People get so burned out because of the short staffing.”
Just how short are units staffed? “In our ED [emergency department], someone the other night was taking care of seven patients,” one nurse from this group said. “And these were sick patients, people with LVADs [left ventricular assist devices], and ICU patients.” This is common all over the country. A medical-surgical nurse may be taking care of up to eight or more patients at a time.
Llubia Albrechtsen, a registered nurse and family nurse practitioner at the rally, said there have been times she has refused to take on additional patients in the emergency department where she works. “When I have five patients, I need to take a step back and pay more attention, because their conditions may worsen,” she said. “It’s hard, because we could be providing excellent care to many of our patients, but with limited resources we have to do the best we can and hope nothing bad happens.”
Albrechtsen said that although hospital administration makes an effort to listen to nurse concerns about staffing, through town halls or open meetings, not much has changed. “Many areas still work understaffed,” she said.
Why Does Staffing Matter?
A policy brief disseminated at the rally lists the effects of inadequate nurse staffing, including the overwhelming evidence that safe staffing saves lives. High patient-to-nurse ratios lead to poor outcomes and a demonstrated increase in patient morbidity and mortality. Inadequate staffing has been associated with an increase in hospital readmissions, falls, pressure ulcers, hospital-acquired infections, and medication errors.
Poor staffing is expensive. In addition to causing poor patient outcomes, nurse burnout causes injuries, illness, and contributes to the growing nursing shortage. Replacing nurses due to turnover takes between 28 to 110 days, and costs the average hospital $6.2 million per year.
“The health care industry generates $3 trillion annually,” Johnson said in his address. “We are living in an age of greed, where the health care industry measures patient satisfaction by a customer service model. This is prioritized over quality and safety. Reducing burnout, staff retention, and caring for your staff are at the bottom of the barrel of priorities.”
The grassroots movement behind safe staffing is fighting for environments that allow nurses to do their work in the way in which they were trained. “[A nurse’s] work has been diminished to defensive practices; it has been reduced to a list of tasks to complete,” Johnson said. “That is not nursing.”
In Johnson’s final remarks, he spoke to empower nurses to return to their states, hospitals, and colleagues with a message to inspire change. “We have to show up in person, put boots on the ground, and be ready to engage and pull more nurses into this movement,” Johnson said. “Most importantly, we have to believe that with over 3 million registered nurses and over 1 million licensed practical nurses, our profession can come together as one. We will take back our profession and regain control of our practice.”
Another rally is already in the works for next year. The organizers of NursesTakeDC will now direct their focus toward supporting any state that has pending policy and legislation aimed at improving nurse-to-patient ratios and safe staffing. Organizer Carroll said that this year is a learning curve for the organizers, and they hope that next year they will have something even better with an even bigger audience.
“We encourage all nurses, practicing at all levels and in all settings, to unify and support beside nurses in the fight for safe staffing,” said Johnson to a room full of applause and cheers. “We fight for recognition—we will not justify our existence! There is no health care industry without us, and we will determine what is best for our practice and for our patients.”