I ’ve been thinking a lot about nurses.Unfortunately, my mother was hospitalized for a brief period over the past few weeks, so I’ve met a fair number of nurses lately.
The first thing that sticks out for me is the high degree of skill, professionalism and care they demonstrate on a regular basis. Mom received fantastic care from many nurses throughout her treatment, and we were grateful for that.
Obviously other professionals and support staff provided excellent service too: doctors, diagnostic technicians, food service personnel and janitorial staff, to name just a few. But I am mindful of the nurses in particular because my mom is a nurse.
My mom’s in-hospital nursing career came to an unfortunate end in the 1990s. She worked for years in obstetrics; she enjoyed the work and she was good at it.
Unfortunately, because of the cuts of the 1990s, the work became harder and more stressful. Layoffs meant that if you were “lucky” enough to keep your job, then you had to pick up the load left behind by decreased staffing. You had to work longer, harder and more stressful hours while witnessing more and more patients go without the care levels they needed. Sound familiar?
As time went on, conditions got worse and worse. Finally, like many of her colleagues before her, mom was forced to leave the job she loved because it just became too much.
Importantly, my mom also taught me about fighting back. She introduced me to the Friends of Medicare and took me to rallies. We fought the fight against austerity together, and still do.
Today, many nurses are working long overtime hours because of understaffing. Some nurses are keeping part-time positions — and still working overtime — because it is the only way to maintain work–life balance and manageable levels of stress.
Currently in negotiations for a new collective agreement, nurses are facing wage rollbacks and significant decreases to overtime pay and other pay differentials for working less desirable shifts.
On one occasion last week, as I was heading in to visit my mother, I ran into one of my former students. She is working now as a nurse at the hospital in complex medical detox (wow, what important work!). Our conversation quickly turned to the trying times right now for teachers and nurses.
We shared with each other how each profession is feeling under siege and disrespected, and that funding problems are going to make things worse before they get better.
It is remarkable how much nurses and teachers have in common.
Both are female-dominated professions. Also, and probably not coincidental, both are caring professions. Both see their work as important to society and undertake it with a high degree of skill and professionalism. Both are being targeted right now.
There is an expectation that people who work in these caring professions are in it for a reason other than money, that they want to make a difference. Unfortunately, this also tends to mean that some will try to take advantage of that. It might be more socially acceptable to lean on teachers and nurses in tight financial times because they do their work out of love.
At the same time, professionals in both these fields have a greater likelihood of feeling moral distress. Moral distress arises when people know what they need to do but are prevented from doing it because of situations beyond their control. It arises when a teacher sees a child struggling or a nurse sees a patient hurting because they can’t access the care they need. This will only get worse as health care and education are targeted for cost cutting.
We need to advocate for better. In the meantime, we should recognize that some of our most important allies right now are nurses. We are in this fight together, and we are in it for largely the same reason.
If you know a nurse, reach out and talk to them, hug them, let them know that you’re feeling what they are and that you’re in this together.
I’m off to call my mom now. ❚
I welcome your comments—contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.