There is no denying that we live and work in some extraordinarily trying times. Cast your eyes in the direction of any streaming news source, and another breaking story that describes the catastrophic dumpster fire of the current state of the U.S. health care industry will jump out at you.
The weight of this downward spiral, coupled with staggering workloads, makes it almost impossible for those struggling in the front lines of health care to come up for air. We are, quite simply, drowning. Sadly, there appears to be no life raft in sight.
Hold on, though; this is not more bad news. As with most tales, the backstory is critical to setting the stage. Bear with us, please, as we set the scene.
A tale of two nurses
This is the tale of two nurses who have worked long and hard, providing direct care in very different and unique practice areas. They both have deep, jagged scars from this journey; many of those reminders of painful experiences are well hidden in their day-to-day adventures in health care. These nurses also possess fulfilling memories of compassionately accompanying patients on sacred journeys of healing.
Now, they find themselves struggling in isolation — there are so many divisions and separations among those in health care. Education, race, specialties, age, geography, and shift schedules are just a few wedges that keep those working in the trenches well apart from each other.
The nurses in this modern tale find themselves seemingly powerless as they and their colleagues feverishly endeavor to maintain ethical and competent standards of care for those they serve. These caregivers are routinely battered in the workplace, emotionally and physically.
Daily, the nurses hear about workers leaving health care, being threatened by those they serve, getting sick, suffering moral injury and dying by suicide. There is no end to this accelerating crash — the business of health care is sinking.
There is little time allowed in the business ethos of productivity units and income generation for the art of healing. That magical quality that has fed the souls of those working in health care over the centuries has been pushed aside.
Desperation is often the spark that ignites the flames of change. The day arrived that one of our nurses found herself, quite literally, at her “wit’s end.” Past efforts, accomplished in solitude, were well-intentioned but insignificant. She lacked the solidarity needed to take some action to slow the flush that was dragging patients and health care workers down the proverbial hopper.
Where could she find a source of support and collaboration? Someone who would not only hear her words but also share in her frustrations, desires, and visions of change? Remember, we are challenged by divisions. Many of us have had the experience of being ignored by others in the hierarchy of the health care world.
Like the drowning swimmer who grows tired of thrashing around in turbulent currents and begins to sink in earnest, this nurse stopped struggling long enough to reach out for help. Her hand unexpectedly grasped that of another nurse who was treading the same troubled waters.
By now, you have probably figured out that we are the two nurses in today’s tale. Yes, we are from entirely different practice areas, levels of formal education, and geographic locations.
Strong bonds exist that serve to soundly unite us. We believe that those working on the frontlines deserve to have their narratives heard; these stories have significance and meaning.
We work hard to tell those stories, empowering the voices of our colleagues. Each story has a unique and valuable spot, and every single one has the power to influence the future.
Statistics have an important place in health care. Coupled with those facts and figures, the human faces of health care share our experiences and those of others. Using these experiences as building blocks helps us construct a culture of care that serves everyone. We all have unique and valuable skills that breathe life into the art of healing.
There are many differences that offer the possibility of muddling our interactions. You may wonder how we make this partnership work within this unexplored minefield of pitfalls.
Early on, while breathlessly treading water, we agreed to listen to each other without prejudice, shame, or judgment. We offered that every idea, concern, and question would be entertained from a position of curiosity rather than dismissed. Conversations would be based on a foundation of honesty and respect. We are in this together – what binds us together must be stronger than what divides us.
For the future of healing, we must acknowledge everyone
It’s apparent to most that the dark clouds and stormy waters in the business of health care continue. There is much that needs attention from both health care workers and consumers.
We have learned that when we work together, strength, creativity, and energy multiply exponentially.
We need to move forward and create a sustainable and caring health care system. We can accomplish this by joining together and acknowledging our struggles, sharing and learning from them.
The next step is key to change — we must take those narratives of drowning and shift their energy in a positive direction. We need to help each other start swimming toward a vision for the future of healing.
Just think about it; what are the possibilities? No dream is too big or too small. Put it out there. You may be surprised at what sticks. And who knows better than you, the working nurse?
Not the CEOs, CFOs, DONs, CNOs, but you.
Let’s come together as one profession. It will be multi-faceted. That is what makes nursing unique — we all have one goal in mind, patient care, but we can all come at it from different experiences.
What story would you like to tell? What is your dream for the future, and what would your best day look like? What part do you want to play in making that day become a reality?
Always remember that you are unique and valuable. Your words have meaning.
June Zanes Garen is a nurse. Beth Quaas is a nurse practitioner.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com