Written by: Rachel Baldwyn
Edited by: Candy Treft
Let me start by saying that “I LOVE BEING A NURSE.”
I graduated with my ADN almost 17 years ago. I have had the opportunity to hold hands with and give comfort to the dying and to cry with families left behind. I have been able to help bring people back from the brinks of death and give them the opportunity to go on to live longer lives. I have brought babies into the world and witnessed big burley men reduced to sobbing tears at the sight of their newborn baby and I have cried with them. I have had the privilege of being a part of human lives that without being a nurse I would have never had the opportunity. I have even had the opportunity to assist in saving my own husband’s life because of my knowledge and skills. Nursing is not just a job, it is an integral part of who I am.
Now, the other side of the story is not so glamorous.
Nurses work long hours away from family. We miss out on weekend bar-b-ques, weddings, holidays, our children’s ballgames and dance recitals. We work when the rest of the world sleeps, we try to sleep when the rest of the world is awake. If we work nights, we have to do without sleep just to take care of normal things the rest of the population never even thinks about. When is the last time you were able to take care of banking business at 2am? Have you ever had a parent teacher meeting at midnight? Even our family sleeps while we work, meaning we have to sleep when our family is awake and enjoying normal life activities, or we do without sleep in order to spend time with them during their waking hours. – This is being a nurse.
In the hospital, nurses are expected to do tasks that most of the world would never want to do.
We wipe butts, we clean up vomit, we sometimes wear masks with alcohol wipes under our noses when we are expected to take care of a patient with rotting flesh and the smells can be so overpowering that we don’t know if we can get through it without gagging or vomiting. – This is being a nurse.
We clean up the deceased patients after we have been unsuccessful in saving their lives, so that the family doesn’t have to see them in such a sad state, when what we really want to do is go somewhere alone and cry. We take a deceased baby into another room and clean them and dress them and take pictures of them so that the young mother will have pleasant memories of the baby she will never get to raise. We cry with and try to offer some measure of comfort to the parents of teenagers who we were unable to save, then we are expected to dry our tears, wash our faces and go on to the next patient. – This is being a nurse.
Those patients are never able to know that we just lost a young life, they still expect us to make their back pain a priority. Many times we are in tears throughout the entire process while wishing we could just go home and hug our own children. We are not able to go home and talk about our day, the laws prevent us from discussing patients with our families and besides most of us would never want to expose our families to the horrors that we see. – This is being a nurse.
“Nobody ever sees this side of nursing.”
“Have we made a difference?”
“I think so.”
Changes in technology and politics have changed the way we take care of our patients.
We are expected to do more with less staff and resources. We spend more time with the computer than we are able to spend with the patients, yet we are held hostage to the patient’s satisfaction during the hospital stay. Our raises are determined by the patient perception of our care. – This is being a nurse.
We are living in an age of entitlement, our patients have become more and more demanding. They, many times, expect to have zero pain instead of a realistic expectation that we can control pain but not eradicate it. We are expected to cater to those who are addicted to meds instead of refusing to give drugs to an already addicted population because we are afraid of negative patient satisfaction scores. We can even be held responsible if someone doesn’t like the food served in the hospital. I have even seen many hospitals change to having room service where they can order from an extensive menu and dictate what time they would like their meal to be served. Not that I think patients should have no control of their care but many years ago, nobody expected to be treated like they were paying for a 5 star hotel while in the hospital.
It is no longer enough to use our skills to care for the patient’s physical and emotional problems. We now have to care for their unrealistic wants as well as try to make sure the wants don’t interfere with the needs. – This is being a nurse.
“We are the largest single profession and we can make a difference if we set aside the mentality of
– if I make someone else look bad I will make myself look better.”
Hospitals will hire brand new BSN nurses over experienced associate degree nurses.
Another issue we as nurses face daily is that we are the most caring profession to our patients but the most condescending and critical of each other. I have seen new nurses who graduate with a BSN come in to the hospital straight off the assembly line acting like they are superior to experienced nurses who only have an associate’s degree, Associate degree nurses act like they are superior to experienced LPN’s.
Last year my husband was in a hospital in a critical state, the floor he was on had no backbone. The most experienced nurse had only 2 years of experience. The “baby nurses” were teaching the even newer nurses. Experience is the only thing that will give nurses the knowledge needed to be successful and to recognize many problems our patients have. Experience is more important than I can ever express.
Many experienced nurses are leaving the field and either retiring or moving on to other less demanding professions, or they are moving up the ladder into management. New nurses are having to learn without the help or guidance of the backbone. They need experienced nurses to pave their way and take them under their wings to show them how to actually be not only nurses who can do the skills but will excel and become great nurses with not only the knowledge but the hands on experience to know when a patient is not as it seems, so that they will be able to recognize subtle changes that need to be addressed that is not in the chart or given in morning report. However because of the critical environment, many nurses with experience don’t want to teach the younger new nurses and the new younger nurses sometimes think they don’t need to be taught.
It is a constant cycle of abuse from both sides of the fence.
Because of the animosity and accepted culture of this pecking order in nursing, we cannot stand together to make the needed changes in healthcare. As long as this mentality continues we will never be able to demand fair salaries or safe nurse to patient ratios. People in the general community will never understand what we as nurses do on a daily basis, they can’t know. It is not something that the normal lay person can truly comprehend. We will never have the respect that we deserve for doing the job that we do. The only people who will ever truly understand are other people within the healthcare field. Yet those people as a whole are the very ones who keep our profession from becoming one we could and should be proud to do. This is also what is going to affect our population and put our patients in jeopardy.
We need to stand together.
We need to educate our communities on what is safe and how they can stand behind nurses to make sure that when their family member is hospitalized they can be comforted in knowing that their nurse has the knowledge and skills and judgment to be able to safely take care of them. Let our families and friends know that we are being expected to care for more than is physically possible to safely care for. We need to stand together for safety and set aside the pecking order for the betterment of our entire profession.
We are the largest single profession and we can make a difference if we set aside the mentality that if I make someone else look bad I will make myself look better. Patient safety and fair wages should be important to each of us.
My name is Rachel Laird Baldwyn, I went back to school to become a nurse with 2 very little boys underfoot and a very supportive husband who pushed me and encouraged me at every step of the way. I have been a nurse since 1999. I worked Med/Surg for about a year and a half, then went on to become an ER nurse for the next 8 years and most recently I am a labor and delivery nurse. I have been a travel nurse for a total of about 6 and a half years, 3.5 years from 2002-2006 and started travelling again in Feb. 2013. Travelling has allowed me to not only support my family but to give them opportunities that I never had. It has allowed me to meet some amazing and wonderful people from all across the country. I have seen more of our amazing country than I ever imagined I would see. At every assignment I try to not only take away new friendships, but also new skills that I can take with me and bring on to my next assignment. I am not sure where my career will ultimately take me but I do hope to be able to continue to use my vast knowledge and experience for the betterment of this amazing profession.
This was originally posted to our Gypsy Nurse Network Group on 10/20/15. I was so moved by the context that I asked Rachel if I could reprint her thoughts here (which she agreed to). Rachel makes so many valid points. I would ask that you share this with your family, friends, co-workers and help bring awareness to our plight.