6:45 a.m. Alexis Neill arrives for her
twelve-hour shift at Unit 21 of Crawford Long Hospital of Emory
University in Atlanta, a thirty-seven bed intermediate care
unit for patients who are being prepped for or recovering from
heart, lung, or vascular surgery. An intensive care unit is
connected to Unit 21 by swinging doors at the end of two long
hallways. Doctors and nurses rush back and forth between the
cardiovascular unit and the ICU, lending an air of urgency.
is tall and slender, with a long ponytail that swings from shoulder
to shoulder as she works. Shes dressed in pale green cotton
scrubs with a black tank top underneath, white socks, white
clogs. A stethoscope is draped around her neck.
from Emorys School of Nursing in May of last year, then
took a few months off to tour England and Ireland. After passing
her nursing boards in August, Neill started working at Unit
21. She works forty hours over four days each weektwo
twelve-hour shifts and two eight-hour shiftsand makes
$16.04 an hour ($33,400 a year) after a recent raise. I
worked here as an extern during my senior year of college, 7
a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, so I was able to get day
shift, she says. Of course, you make more an hour
during evening and night shifts.
shortage has hit Crawford Long, a 583-bed teaching hospital
in midtown, as it has many hospitals across the country. To
help care for more than twenty thousand inpatients and ninety
thousand outpatients a year, the hospital has 822 nurses and
101 nursing techs. In the past two years, Crawford Long has
hired 332 nurses and needs close to 80 more. Supervisors often
try to fill the gaps with traveling nurses or agency nurses.
seen a really big increase in that, says Neill, who has
been following articles about the shortage in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But temporary nurses dont know the doctors or routine
orders for this unit, so we spend more of our time telling them
what to do and showing them where things are.
Neill has four
patients todaya forty-five-year-old woman with a spontaneously
collapsed lung, who is being prepared for surgery; a diabetic
sixty-year-old man in the final stages of kidney disease, who
has had artery bypass surgery in his legs to improve circulation;
a sixty-six-year-old woman who is recovering from having a cancerous
lung removed; and a fifty-four-year-old man with hepatitis C
and latent tuberculosis, who is recovering from surgery to drain
fluid from the sac around his heart.
rotate pretty quickly here, Neill says. I dont
have any of the same ones I had during my last shift. They try
to give us a balance between very ill patients and ones who