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Nursing for me is about making a difference — and every day I’m making a difference in the lives of the people I care for. Take a Monday earlier this month. A patient of mine living with cerebral palsy was struggling to complete her therapeutic exercises. Her mother, clearly frustrated, feared her daughter wasn’t making sufficient progress. Dedicated and caring, the mother also worried that she wasn’t doing enough to help her daughter improve and succeed.

But this young woman was improving — slowly, surely, in ways imperceptible to the untrained eye. “Your daughter can now open both of her hands; all of our hard work is clearly paying off,” I explained, as the mother’s face transformed from hopeless to full of hope. “Your daughter just wants to be independent,” I continued, “and she obviously gets this spirit from you.”

Independence – as much as making a difference – is becoming a bigger focus for me in my career.  The freedom to control my schedule. The freedom to control my income. The freedom to care for my three children. The freedom to care for me.

Until recently, I didn’t really have that choice.

For too long nurses have been treated like afterthoughts. We’re burned out and stressed out – from Covid, from our home lives, from feeling like our needs are always considered last. And this not only impacts our ability to perform, it threatens the effectiveness of the entire healthcare systems we’re so passionately committed to supporting. Yet, the working conditions and rigid schedules have not changed with the world around us.

Over my six-year career in nursing, I’ve witnessed both the indifference and abuse that has become too common in our industry. As a result, our community is suffering. Less than half of the 12,000 nurses recently polled by the American Nurses Association (ANA), for instance, believe that their employers care about them – a mere 19 percent for nurses 35 and under. More than 50 percent of all nurses are also thinking about leaving nursing; a figure that rises to 63 percent for nurses under 35. The latter numbers particularly worry me; with so many of my younger brothers and sisters ready to give up on nursing – and a national nursing shortage only expected to get worse – the future of the profession I love has never felt grimmer.

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I know what it’s like to be undervalued in the workplace. I’ve been told by nursing agencies to wait in the cold if my patients are running late. Then when they finally do arrive, I’ve been expected to wash their clothes – even though I’m a nurse, not a housekeeper. I’ve been berated by patients for “moving too slowly” and battled with administrators for adequate PPE safety gear during the height of the pandemic. I’ve been made to feel like a number – a body – by nursing agencies just focused on profits and disrespected by patients and family members aggressively insistent I could just “do more.”

But more must be done to consider our needs, too – both by the nursing industry and the community of nurses to whom we all belong. What we seek is to be seen, valued, and supported in ways that matter.  To be listened to if we are struggling during a hard shift. To hear “thank you” instead of being ignored. To give us tools and resources to take care of our mental health because after the past two years, we need it.

I experienced this kind of support unexpectedly when I found connectRN,  a new platform that matches nurses with health care facilities that need our services. The ability to work when I want, where I want has given me the independence I was seeking, and an opportunity to step away if I need to recharge.  As a mother, this flexibility is more important than ever. I can take on shifts that work with my child-care needs, eliminating the stress that usually occurs when making money and being a Mom collide.  This should become an industry standard, rather than a perk from a digital start-up.

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One of the things I value most about connectRN is that they are nurse-first and care as much about our community as the shifts they post. When I joined the platform, I was given access to The Beat, a private community of nurses who also work with connectRN.  It is a safe space to chat with your peers about the things only nurses can truly understand – without the fear of reprisal or retribution. We share stories about hard shifts, give each other support to keep going, and often find “work buddies” in the places we work often. As debates rage around the role of nursing unions, hospitals and agencies must understand that a united nursing community is a better nursing community – better equipped, better prepared, and far better focused on the needs of our patients. With my life far more than just nursing – kids (both teens and a toddler), my extended family, a bit of me time – I feel lucky to be part of this community

For me, personally, The Beat proved particularly helpful when dealing with mental health concerns. At the height of Covid, the community offered telehealth therapy sessions through a partnership to use at our discretion.  To be honest, I never considered I might need this kind of help — no one had ever asked me. But the death of a colleague — a young mother who passed away shortly after giving birth — hit me harder than I’d initially expected. I needed help to process how I was feeling and I took advantage of the offer. To have that support – for free –  made me feel worthy and valued.

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Over the past two years, I’ve been struck by a newfound respect for nurses as the Covid crisis continues unabated. Patients and families recognize our role at the frontlines of the pandemic and understand the risks taken daily to help their loved ones survive. What’s needed now is a parallel boost in understanding and appreciation from the hospitals and nursing agencies that power our profession. Because fairer pay, added flexibility, stress reduction, and self-care won’t just improve the lives of nurses, they’ll help ensure the positive patient outcomes we all desire. As nurses, we intuitively understand the necessity of these demands; it’s time for staffing agencies and health facilities to embrace this mindset with equally open hearts and minds.

Christinia Gilmore, LPN
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