Who Wants to Be a Nurse?

My employer, Acme Regional Health Care, abruptly and arbitrarily announced changes to policy which will severely and negatively affect every RN in the ER. Without going into the details, it appears this change is being done for no other reason than for the very slight benefit (and dubious at that) of a few upper-level managers, no matter the inconvenience, worry and stress it is causing frontline staff.*

Of course we’re all upset and angry. But will we do anything about it? Sadly, no. Don’t be silly. We’re nurses.  We’re all now muttering that the consequences will be dire, that we need to put our foot down, that management needs to treat us with respect. And so on. But being the good nurses we are, we will acquiesce, still muttering to ourselves, our victimization complete.  And I know management is counting on this reaction, this learned powerlessness — they’ve seen us do it to ourselves many times before.

Something else: a colleague of mine told me the other day her daughter told her she wanted to be a nurse.  My colleague said she cried and cried.  They weren’t tears of joy, either. This is not the first time I’ve heard this story.

And really: who in their right mind wants to be a nurse?

There’s this sort of fuzzy-wuzzy image of nurses, being the helping, caring profession, making a difference in people’s lives, and then there is the reality, that in large parts, it’s a really shitty job, figuratively and literally.  It’s incredibly demanding, physically challenging, stressful, full of backbiters and passive-aggressives and horizontal violence, management treats you like meat and consultants can treat you like dirt, and oh yes, your life expectancy is decreased by years because of all that nasty shiftwork.  I think most veteran nurses, if they were honest, would say they stay nurses because it’s fairly well-paying and has decent benefits (but not as well as, say, teachers or paramedics or police or even TTC workers).  Not because of those fleeting and mostly mythological Florence Nightingale moments. And most nurses, I think, are plotting their escape as quickly as possible.

Call it the malaise of our profession: we have awesome and frightening responsibility, and absolutely no autonomy.  Our authority as nurses is circumscribed at every turn.

If my friend’s daughter asked my opinion about becoming a nurse, I would say, Don’t.

Just don’t.


*Our union, the Ontario Nurses Association, is worse than useless. They seem to be more concerned about being good management toadies than protecting and advocating for their members.  In fact, ONA appears to be actively colluding with management, since the Local has known about this change since July, yet neglected to tell us anything about it.  When challenged, the Local replied, “Oh we don’t tell members about every little thing that goes on — we don’t have the time.”(!)


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