Ian Miller, blogging over at ImpactedNurse.com, notes a disturbing trend in Australia, one, I’m afraid, is becoming more common in North America. “These days,” he writes, “being a nurse is tough. Really tough.”
I look around and see many struggling at the bedside. I see the increasing perception that this is menial or bottom-of-the-professional-foodchain work.
I see more and more of this sort of feeling online.
What our brightest and best nurses should be doing instead of creating a culture of escaping the bedside or doing time at the bedside is acknowledging that it is the nurse providing direct care to the patient or client that is the absolute most important domain of our increasingly diversifying profession.
Nurses do not really want to be business entrepreneurs, unless they have no other choice. They want to be nurses.
I would even argue that if you are not regularly within arms reach of your patient/client you are not nursing. And if you have not done this for a long time you are not really a nurse. You are something else. Strong stuff1 I know.
The bedside nurse should be re-valuing themselves not re-inventing themselves.
Miller’s solution is “8 in 8,” i.e. having non-bedside nurses work an 8 hour shift every 8 weeks at the bedside as a condition of their registration. This is an idea I like the more I think about it. However, it would be complicated to implement, not the least because of resistance from said non-bedside nurses — and can you see all those functionaries from nursing regulatory agencies or upper management pulling on scrubs and Crocs and tending to stool incontinence and urinary drainage bags?
Hmmm. Maybe not.
But Miller’s premise, that bedside nursing itself is demeaned and devalued to the point where many of us — including myself — are plotting our escape to greener pastures is sadly true. But why? The reasons for this are pretty simple. Despite years of education and rhetoric, nurses aren’t really permitted to practice to the full scope of our knowledge. We all have heard managers speak of their time at the bedside like it was a prison sentence. Television shows like Grey’s Anatomy tell us bedside nurses are stupid. We know that hospitals view nursing not as a valued added service, but as an expensive cost centre, and that Human Resources thinks of nurses as a “problem” to be managed, like the kitchen guys who make the salads, not as practising professionals.
To be clear, we menialize ourselves as well, when we view nursing as a job rather than a profession, or when we see nursing as a series of tasks to be completed before shift change, rather than a process requiring frequent periods of critical thinking.
It’s all pretty overwhelming, and though I will publicly stand up for the value of bedside nursing, and argue strenuously to its central importance in health care, there are times when even I have a little shadow of doubt.
So really I’m not very surprised if nurses of all ranks and positions view the bedside as menial and demeaning. If people around you all day tell you you’re worthless and menial, and if you view what you do as being more or less thankless and trivial, pretty soon you’re going to believe you are worthless and menial — and so is your professional practice.
I would like to tell you my own motives for escaping the bedside are pure, but when I seriously reflected about it, I realized some of my reasons for wanting to leave had much to do with decent hours and status. And something else: the ability to act autonomously and effect change in a real way.
In other words, it’s all about power, and this explains why bedside nurses are so demeaned and devalued and want to escape.
Because we have none. Or think we do.
(I would argue front line nurses have far more power to shape their practice and workplace culture than they realize, but we all have been indoctrinated since the first day of nursing school never to question their place in the food chain and to always ask permission. And I’m not speaking about “making a difference in patient’s lives” — a phrase which has always struck me as infantile and meaningless. But this is a subject of a whole other post.)