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Board is as tough as it needs to be

MY VIEW • Of 62,000 licensed nurses, only 1 percent have been subject of complaints

What a contrast between the Portland Tribune article published March 7 (Nursing chaos) and the most recent Gallup Organization poll regarding the public's opinion of nurses. The 2005 poll revealed that nurses are ranked No. 1 in professional honesty and ethical standards.

Of the 21 professions listed, six have majority 'high ethical' ratings Ñ nurses (82 percent), pharmacists (67 percent), medical doctors (65 percent), high school teachers (64 percent), police officers (61 percent) and clergy (54 percent). Further, nurses have been the highest rated profession since first being included in Gallup's 'Honesty and Integrity' survey in 1999, except in 2001, when firefighters outranked them in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (Firefighters were not included in this year's poll.)

Your exposŽ on the Oregon State Board of Nursing does both a disservice to the board but, more important, to nurses and to the patients we serve.

Admittedly, nursing, as does every other profession, has members who fail to adhere to appropriate standards of practice. Some even intentionally or unintentionally harm patients. The number, however, is minuscule compared with the thousands of professionals and our assistants who provide care every day.

The article suggests that when nurses and nursing assistants are reported to their licensing board, the public's safety is less important than protecting the nurse. To make the point, you used three sensational stories repeatedly as if they represent the norm.

In fact, of the 62,000 licensed nurses and nursing assistants, only 1 percent are ever the subject of a complaint to the board. The complaints are not all related to mistreatment of patients. They can include using a report to the board as a lever in a child custody dispute as well as legitimate instances of poor or dangerous practice. That is hardly an indictment of the profession or of the board when it chooses not to allow its disciplinary procedures to be misused.

The Board of Nursing has a long history of being vigilant in its oversight of the nursing profession, and some have even argued vociferously that it is too aggressive. During the last legislative session, in fact, legislation was passed requiring licensing boards to work with representatives of nurses who are under investigation. The testimony painted a picture of a board that is tough on nurses, not lenient. It is surprising that the legislation was not mentioned in your first article.

If the Tribune or any citizen questions whether a licensing board is doing its job, there is a remedy through the elected leadership of the state. It would have been more responsible to take the questions and concerns there.

Susan King is a registered nurse and executive director of the Oregon Nurses Association, located in Tualatin. She is a former member and president of the Oregon State Board of Nursing.