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Nurses Rights in an Age of Changing Healthcare

Nurses have historically been underpaid and undervalued considering the large amount of schooling and training they require. However, with the widespread shortage in the last decade, more people have joined that profession. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor predicted that registered nurse (RN) employment would increase by 26 percent from 2010 to 2020. This would put RN employment at a growth rate that's higher than that of all other occupations on average. Even during the "Great Recession," employment of RNs grew by about 182,000 each year.

As nursing grows to meet the demands of industry-wide understaffing, the rights of nurses remain unclear. Unlike in New York, most nurses in New Jersey are not unionized. This limits the protections and benefits that they can and are receiving. On average, unionized RNs earn $224 more per week, and unionized Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) earn $415 more per week, than their non-union counterparts. Unionized nurses also have the added benefits of an advocate for their concerns, such as smaller nurse-to-patient ratios, and collective bargaining for salaries and healthcare.

But studies on the difficulties of the nursing profession have begun to produce changes. In 2000, states began legislating caps on mandatory overtime for nurses in response the profession's complaints. These laws regulate how and when health care facilities can require overtime by nurses and nurses' aides. New Jersey enacted such a law in 2006. Even so, these laws may be at odds with the culture of the nursing profession. Besides the fact that many nurses may not know the law exists, they may feel compelled to stay with a patient in need, even if they're working too much overtime. Nurses rights have also been in the spotlight when their personal beliefs have been at odds with hospital policies-for example, twelve nurses sued the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) after the hospital implemented a policy that all nurses in the same-day surgery unit would have to assist in abortion procedures or face termination. UMDNJ and the nurses settled the case in 2011.

The healthcare industry accounts for about one-fifth of the U.S. economy. With healthcare "reform" now taking place, the rights of nurses will have to continue to evolve and target the difficulties in the profession. With assistance from Angela Yu, Rutgers School of Law & Rutgers Business School.

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