We need a new way to value the work of nurses

We need a new way to value the work of nurses

Ask a nurse about Nurses’ Week, and you’ll likely get a snarky answer. The sweets designed to obesify already unhealthy nurses are intended to kill them off so they can bring in a whole new crop, as they’ll be cheaper than the old experienced ones.

We need a national initiative to start giving out coupons during Nurses’ Week for plastic surgery to have smiles permanently stuck on our faces.

Nurses like to be praised for the work we do, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it feels good. It makes up for a lot of the day-to-day garbage that we endure.

I was touched by the patient who said she thought of me when she heard about the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and hoped I was okay. She knew I was running a race but she didn’t know it was in Cleveland, not Boston. When she came in for her next appointment, she was happy and relieved to see that I was safe.

That’s the kind of thing that nurses appreciate. It affirms the human bond, and validates the connection between us and our patients. We have so much in common, even when our lives and circumstances can be opposite extremes. Nursing is about being human.

I’m an athlete, a writer, an artist, and a nurse. My whole identity is not wrapped up in nursing. It gives me a broader view of the nursing profession, I see it in a different light than someone who considers it “who” they are.

Nothing is wrong with someone who considers their occupation to be their primary identity. I admire people who can focus on something like that when it’s their passion. But no matter how you see yourself, when you’re a nurse, you need to be there, 100 percent.

Nurses are supposed to think critically about patient safety, but is critical thinking is allowed when it pertains to the nurse’s workplace? You speak up, you become a target. Consequently, nurses don’t advocate for themselves, their working conditions, compensation, or expectations of them as human beings.

Corporations worry because they can’t control everything that is said, it’s hard to avoid people saying things that don’t match a carefully orchestrated and expensive PR agenda. When corporations are people, they get their feelings hurt. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a small community or a big city, in the age of the “Internets”, the truth gets out faster than a BP oil spill.

So, in honor of Nurses’ Week, I propose nurses everywhere need to break out of the habit of complaining amongst themselves, and acting powerless. Stop bashing each other. If it’s too hard to change from the inside, then perhaps it needs to be changed from the outside.

Nurses are among the most stressed out workers.

Why work a job that you can’t do without antidepressants, where you gain ten or twenty pounds a year, that wears you out so much that you spend a day or two after your work week recovering before you have the energy to function?

No bean counter or consulting firm anywhere can quantify the value of what we do. We need to find a new way of valuing nurses’ work, quantified differently, and not viewed as an expense, but an investment in our society.

To those who want me to be a meek little Stepford nurse, I care passionately about this! If I get a target on my back, so be it. Violence is a resort of the weak.

Alene Nitzky is a registered nurse who blogs at Journey to Badwater.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/merrian.bianculli Merrian Antonini Bianculli

    Thanks for speaking up! I am so angry about the whole nurses week thing! At my hospital they celebrate by having a free lunch that one needs to basically abandon their patients for since the line is an hour long. It would make more sense to give us a coupon that could be used any day. If you are off on Nurses Day you get no free lunch so I guess they save a little food this way? All of the other activities are “Holistic” care for nurses. You can get a message or a vibration therapy or a music or aromatherapy session. Thanks but what I would like is coverage! Coverage so I could go to one of these therapies, or how about just coverage so I can go get a Colonoscopy or other recommended health screening. I would pay for my own massage if I had enough time off to get one! How about coverage for vacations so we don’t have to take forced days off or loose our vacation days! We are treated like scum. What other Professionals punch a time clock for crying out loud! The way I see it nursing is a dead-end job unless you want to be a manager. If you go into management you can have all the time off you want and you can attend any program you want. You never have to punch a clock or touch a patient. I want to touch patients! I want to be a nurse not a manager. I just want to be valued. I want my degree to be valued! I need a day off!

    • Alene Nitzky

      I feel your frustration. Nurses’ Week, instead of truly honoring nurses for their work, always makes nurses angry because it just reinforces what we feel the other 51 weeks of the year, that we are just bodies filling shifts. Yes, coverage would be nice, how about coverage so that we could take a whole hour and actually sit down and eat our lunch without having to gulp it down? But it’s not going to happen, and things will never improve, until nurses band together and stop accepting the way things are. We have to stop allowing this, and it is going to take a mass movement of nurses, because we really have no sound representation or support system. A grassroots organization that backs us up and helps us unify is one thing that’s needed. Our only hope of changing this is to do it ourselves, management and academic types are never going to effect change.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kate.curry.3950 Kate Curry

        I am touched by your cri de coeur. After many years, I’ve concluded that the unity of purpose necessary to accomplish the goals you outline is impossible for the nursing profession because (a) it is not purely a profession (I don’t care what they told us in Intro to Nursing) (b) the disparity of educational levels frustrates understanding and cooperation among LPNs, two-year RNs and baccalaureate RNs and (c) the personal characteristics of nurses in general. But let’s keep trying.

        • Alene Nitzky

          I’m curious to hear more about those personal characteristics of nurses… I agree that it is not purely a profession and we have different “tiers”. The whole issue of baccaluareate vs 2 year RNs is a whole topic in itself.

          • http://www.facebook.com/kate.curry.3950 Kate Curry

            I think many nurses are insecure, need to be needed, withhold information and sabotage each other and themselves — wanting to hold on to whatever power they can accrue because they feel so powerless. As an old nurse said to me once, a lot of nurses have personality disorders. Maybe that true of all professions. I don’t know, but back in the day when I worked for engineers, the workplace was not toxic.

          • Alene Nitzky

            I think there is a lot of codependent behavior, and a lot of controlling behavior among nurses, but I’m not sure how much different it is from any other group of people. What I see is constant enabling and the cycle of abuse generation after generation of nurses. I don’t see that as unique to nurses, but it’s a huge problem for the nursing profession.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kate.curry.3950 Kate Curry

      Amen, sister! I got a coupon for a nail salon and an IOU for a blood pressure cuff.

  • http://twitter.com/wwwwwhy gooch

    some of my best experiences have been with nurses both personally and professionally…i love you…i will give you almost anything you want..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1338422225 Tom Garvey

    A good nurse can save you from a bad doctor. Nothing can save you from a bad nurse. Nurses matter.