Not since the last time some celebrity or politician said something uneducated about the profession of nursing has there been such a furious backlash. Fellow angry nurses have spent valuable time spewing our collective anger about what Senator Maureen Walsh said, venting about how we feel, creating memes, posting on Facebook, gathering signatures, debating in groups and demanding that action be taken and repercussions suffered. But what exactly was accomplished? Aside from the fact that everyone ran to their neutral corners, patting each other on the back and congratulating ourselves for insulting someone 2,000 miles from our home?
Of the main things I remember being taught during one of my clinical rotations is that when a patient feels a loss of control, they attempt to overcome that loss by controlling their caregivers and their immediate environment. They micromanage their situation, attempting to control their surroundings even while the larger picture of the potential of painful testing, a debilitating illness, or death is being denied and not dealt with.
I think of the patient in this situation as the nurse…we are buffeted by hurtful words and feeling that no one outside of nursing understands our professional lives, we feel as if we have lost control…we HAVE to make the person understand that what they have said is wrong, that what THEY have done is unimaginable. They MUST understand what a nurse goes through, has gone through, and what we are willing to go through in the future for our patients. We become angry and think of how to prove ourselves and explain our position for all to understand. We lash out and why we lash out is because we often times feel powerless to deal with our situation just like our patients. It is easier to scream over Facebook and write emails and letters to a person we will never meet, than to tackle the immediate problem of our own employment circumstances. Half the time we can’t make our immediate supervisors understand what our working conditions are like, so how do we expect to change the mindset of anyone else?
So, by mailing decks of cards did we change anything? With all our emails and letters, did working conditions on our units improve? Did our staffing levels get better? Did our pay increase? Did our benefits change? Did we make anyone finally understand? In a word…nope. What we did do is spend a lot of time, money, energy, and emotion on something we had no control over, much like one of our patients trying to control the uncontrollable.
Imagine what would happen if the time and energy that was expended in writing emails and letters, gathering signatures, and making phone calls to a state senator in a state where we probably don’t live and therefore cannot vote for or against, was spent in improving the working conditions of OUR units, OUR hospitals, OUR health care system?
Imagine if we worked together as professionals with a clear understanding of both sides of a situation, not screaming in reaction to headlines or snippets of information, but the true situation. In this most recent instance, the political person we were attempting to fight against was actually fighting FOR nurses, not against them and said something that while not the most enlightened, was taken out of context. For that, she and her family are receiving death threats…is this really how we want to be perceived—ill-informed and angry? Or as the professionals that we are…in control, educated, and mindful of the big picture?
I put to you that some of what we have done in the past to correct how the public understand nursing is obviously not working if we still have television shows that portray us incorrectly, so-called celebrities that have no idea what we do, and politicians that must constantly be reminded of how valuable we are. So yes, continue to fight the good fight, but be mindful that there will be people that remain ill-informed or say stupid things.
In honor of National Nurses Week, I invite you to take a look at your surroundings and ask yourself “What can be done to change them?” To better the circumstances of the profession as a whole, start with your unit, office or facility because unless that is changed, the rest of the health care system will not be.