Monday, June 24, 2013

A Nurse's Life - Stress

Nursing is one of those professions that seems to polarize people. Over the past many years, when speaking with members of the public and even healthcare professionals, I've found opinions to be rather strong about who or what they believe nurses to be and what the job is like. Some people believe that nurses are angels (we're not), others believe that it's an easy job and that nurses are their servants (we're not), and yet others believe that a "smart nurse" is a wannabe doctor (we're not) and that if you're not a "smart nurse," then being a nurse was as close as you could get to becoming a doctor (it's not). Oh, and many believe that doctors are nurses' bosses and that nurses can't and don't think on their own (so not true). We can't forget that there's also the whole other group of people who have no clue at all what it is like to be a nurse and what nurses actually do. (What Do Nurses Really Do?)

As with many professions, nursing has changed over the years. Just in my professional lifetime, there have been so many leaps in technology and in responsibility that it would be impossible to list them all. Patients in the hospital now - on regular units, not ICU - are sicker than they ever were before. The patients we kept in the hospital for several days when I began nursing are now, if kept overnight at all, discharged as quickly as possible. Nurses are expected to keep up with it all.

The CBC had a feature that discussed how low staffing numbers in Canadian hospitals affected how nurses perceived and did their work; I think it's a must-read for anyone, health professional or not. And it's important to keep in mind that this isn't a Canada healthcare system vs U.S. healthcare system issue. Staffing ratios are in issue throughout the continent so while nursing has always been a stressful position, it's getting worse. Fear of mistakes is paramount. And, unlike some jobs where a mistake is annoying, perhaps expensive, but fixable, a nurse's mistake could cost a life.

Nurses need more support. They need more people going into the profession so there are fewer shortages and demands like forced overtime. They need better support in the hospitals. They need for the public to understand that they aren't miracle workers and if the public demands that the nurses do non-nursing tasks, then the nurses don't have time to do what they are supposed to do.

Nurses aren't perfect. There are some who shouldn't be in the profession and everyone knows someone who has a bad story to tell about such a nurse. But it's so important remember that this is not representative of the profession. There are bad teachers, but not all are bad. There are bad bank tellers, but not all are bad. There are bad accountants, but not all are bad. Nurses are for the most part, very caring and very good at what they do. They have to be to keep going back to it shift after shift.

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