Archive for category Battered Nurse Syndrome

“We Don’t Care What’s On Your Head. We Care What’s In It.”

So there’s this thing in Quebec which I’m sure my Canadian readers have heard of and maybe also a few of my American readers, which involves the Quebec government devising some legislation called the Charter of Quebec Values. I have to say “charters” and “values” are nice happy positive words, and Quebec is filled with deliciously cheesy poutine, hockey, maple syrup, and those devilishly sexy Québécois men, so what’s there not to like (except for les Habs, boo, hiss!)?

The thing is, this Charter of Quebec Values wants to ban wearing obvious religious symbols for all public employees, including nurses and other health care professionals. This, I have to say, has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with some nice Ladies of Muslim persuasion cheekily wearing hijab in broad daylight in Montreal and everything.

From the Government of Quebec website. Top: acceptable. Bottom: Va te faire foutre (You can Google Translate that too.)

(Just so you know, American readers, I must also officially tell you is NOT racist, and the fact the proposed legislation targets Quebecers with brown skin is merely, um, an unfortunate coincidence.  We say this because the Quebec government is acting from the purest, noblest of intentions. This is a Fact, because the Quebec government has told us so. (You can Google translate it or something.) It is well-known that the separatist, ruling Parti Québécois has long been offended by clerical collars, Jewish kippahs, wimples and garish Roman Catholic crucifixes. This is also a Fact, which you can also Google.)

The proposed charter will affect health care professionals, including nurses. My question, then, does the wearing of religious symbols or associated clothing have any place in the provision of health care? Should nurses don hijab on the hjob?

Before you run off to start raving, maybe you should consider a few things. First, banning headscarves (or whatever) has a distinct element of authoritarian nastiness about it. Should the nursing profession be that coercive? There’s probably no getting around the fact that if the legislation is passed, it will be nurses enforcing the ban against other nurses.*  (The irony of having the Quebec government telling Muslim women how to dress, partly, it is argued, to ensure gender equality, is beyond these guys.)

Another thing: nurses have a long history of wearing weird things on their heads. It’s safe to say that if you look over the course of the history of nursing, no crazy headgear has been the exception, not the rule.

Like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Which reminds me: some of you might say, oh it completely different! it’s a religious thing! Muslims shouldn’t be pushing their faith in our faces!

Well, there’s this:

+

And this:

But not this? (Love this ad, by the way. It was created in response to the proposed Quebec law..)

We’re always looking for the highest calibre health professionals to come join our team. This is our newest recruitment ad that will be running in Montreal.  So for anyone looking to work in a leading hospital focused on safety and quality, check us out.

So if you’re offended by women in hijab but not by Catholic nursing sisters, what’s the difference? Do you really believe the hijab (or any other piece of religious accoutrement) sucks out the nursing from the nurse?

So dear readers, hijab for nurses and other health care professionals, yes or no?

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*The Quebec nurses union, FIQ, has courageously taken the position of taking no position at all. In other words, the union won’t defend members running afoul of this law. I’m pro-union, but holy Sam Gompers, sometimes their leadership are dumb as stumps.

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The phrases junior nurses and most staff do not care to hear from senior nurses…

…or the negativity they can spew….

“You wouldn’t know what to look for in that type of patient assessment anyways…”

How do you know I don’t know what to assess for? Are you the textbook I read from? The online periodicals I continue to educate myself with? Are you every patient I have assessed in the last 8 years? Did you teach me? Were you my preceptor in some nightmare? Well since you are none of the previous and you’re not a bound textbook (despite how wound up you are all the time) please do not assume that since I have less experience than you, I won’t know how to assess a patient with XYZ diagnosis. Perhaps just ask if I know what the presenting signs and symptoms may be and any associated complications to monitor for, what the normal would be, etc… and take a supportive and educative approach if you are concerned about my assessment skills without any condescending tone or implied disregard for my apparent limited knowledge.

I recently had a patient with a skull fracture, (the head injury happened a day earlier), and the senior nurse asked if the patient had battle’s sign, (bruising behind the ears), which they did not, I informed her, to which she rudely replied with, “you wouldn’t know what battle’s sign looks like anyways…”. Between being 0645 in the morning after a long night shift and the only words coming out of my mouth would have been immature and highly offensive, I felt it right to walk away from the conversation.

As per this blog post, I’m clearly still stewing.

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Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate the Nurse

An unpleasant, no, ugly and unfortunate situation at Victoria General Hospital is preventing a woman from seeing her son. From the National Post article:

A 73-year-old woman who travelled to Victoria from South Africa to care for her seriously ill son has been banned from Victoria General Hospital after she says she tapped a nurse on the head to get her attention.
Shirley Spence, originally from England, has been sitting in her rented apartment in Victoria since mid-May, barred from seeing her son, Gary Abbott, 52, who was found to have a brain bleed after falling ill.
Instead, every day her longtime partner, Andrew Regan, visits Abbott.
The couple say the situation is surreal and that they keep waiting for common sense and grace to prevail — but it never does. Abbott’s brothers and sisters in South Africa are incensed.
“I can’t believe I’m being treated like a criminal,” Spence said. She wrote an apologetic letter following the alleged incident, saying she was unaware of the no-touching policy, that no harm or aggression was intended, and that she will never touch staff in future. She ended the letter with a plea to see her son. But she was told it was not heartfelt.
[SNIP]
Despite what may seem like a disproportionate reprimand to the average observer, VIHA said it must support its staff on its own zero-tolerance policy concerning violence or abusive behaviour.
“Whether she tapped her or whacked her on the head, it’s unacceptable behaviour,” said VIHA spokeswoman Shannon Marshall. “The nurse’s story doesn’t vary from Mrs. Spence’s as I understand it.”

A couple of thoughts. First, at first glance, unyielding enforcement of a zero tolerance policy against abuse in these circumstances strikes one as not only defying common sense, but deliberately cruel. But then, there is this statement on the incident  from the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA):

The Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) has a zero tolerance policy toward violence of any kind – whether emotional, verbal, or physical – involving any member of our staff, physicians, patients, or visitors.
VIHA recognizes the current situation involving visits to a patient at Victoria General Hospital is complex and challenging – both for staff and the family involved.
Over the past week as this situation has unfolded, VIHA has been committed to the required risk assessment processes around violence in the workplace. In this specific case, a full and complete risk assessment was carried out. This process involved representation from BCNU, HSA, HEU, unit staff, VIHA (Unit Manager, Social Work, Occupational Health, Protection Services and VGH safety advisor). The risk assessment considered what occurred around the incident itself, relevant documents and facts involving family interactions prior to the incident, and the potential risk for future violence. The decision following the risk assessment was unanimous.
VIHA is very aware and concerned about the impact this incident has had on the staff member involved and other staff on the unit.
VIHA also recognizes the stress and concern the current situation is having on the family. Decisions to restrict visitation are not made lightly as we know the importance of family support and visitation in facilitating the recovery process for our patients.
VIHA is exploring ways to support the mother to visit with her son while he remains in hospital. In the short term, this visitation is unlikely to occur on the unit itself, but – as the patient’s condition allows – we are looking at ways to arrange visits in other areas of the hospital. VIHA will be working with the family very shortly to develop visitation arrangements. [Emphasis mine.]

The fact VIHA is doubling down in the face of hostile news reports suggests to me that there is more to the story than is superficially apparent. Note the decision to restrict visitation was unanimous among the risk assessment committee assembled to consider the matter. Perhaps the “head tap” was more than the gentle remonstrance of an elderly woman suggested in the newspaper article — try tapping your skull hard with your fingertips, and you’ll see what I mean — and I wonder too if there was a pattern of escalation.

At any rate it’s a tough balancing act. On one hand, hospitals have a clear legal and ethical duty to provide a safe work place for their employees and to protect them from violent and abusive behaviour. Zero tolerance policies are reflective of this duty. But throwing out family is not a great choice in any situation. Family members are generally considered integral to the health care team surrounding the patient. Note also VIHA is trying to find accommodation for the patients mother. I myself will not hesitate to have family removed if they interfering with patient care or if they are violent or threatening violence. My own rule-of-thumb is what I call the “Bank Teller Rule.” If the behaviour is inappropriate in a bank — and clearly, head-tapping your teller would be — out you go.

In case you are wondering, violence and abusive behaviour directed towards nurses is widespread. One study showed exactly how common violence is — and why, incidentally, I enthusiastically support zero tolerance policies:

Emergency Nurses
39.9 percent were threatened with assault
21.9 percent were physically assaulted
Medical Surgical Nurses
22.6 percent were threatened with assault
24.2 percent were physically assaulted
Psychiatry Nurses
20.3 percent were threatened with assault
43.3 percent were physically assaulted
(Source: Hesketh, K., S. M. Duncan, C. A. Estabroks, et al. 2003. Workplace violence in Alberta and British Columbia hospitals. Health Policy 63: 311–321.)

I think the study actually under-reports. Personally, I have been slapped countless times by demented and not-so-demented patients, I have been bitten to the point of bleeding, and once I was punched in the side of the head and knocked to the ground. This last was witnessed by police, and of course, no charges were laid. Again I repeat: why is there an expectation that nurses should tolerate behaviour from patients and families that is not tolerated anywhere else?

Did I sign up for any of this? Did any nurse?

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A Nurse Contemplates Leaving the Profession [Updated]

Dinner last night with an old friend who toils in the mines of Labour and Delivery. She has worked there for four years. She told me of an incident not too long ago working the night shift, faced with a post-partum patient who was bleeding, hypotensive, and tachycardic, in short, showing all the signs of going into hypovolemic shock. She was running around, starting IV lines on flat veins and hanging blood products. Packed red cells. Platelets. Cryoprecipitate. And by-the-by, saline by the bucketful. She called for help from her colleagues. Apart from this patient and another who was walking the halls a few hours from delivery, it was a slow night.

Of course, you know the end to this story, don’t you?

No one came.

No one even popped their head in the doorway to ask, “Is everything okay?”

All of  them were at the nursing station, playing Draw Something on their phones, watching the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, what have you. Too busy to help a drowning colleague with a shocky patient.

My friend went to her educator and her manager. They shrugged it off. No biggie, they said. Clearly my friend had things under control. “The patient lived, didn’t she?” they said. And then: “Maybe you need to improve your organizational skills to handle critically ill patients.”

This last to a 50-something woman who has been nursing 25-plus years, almost all of it in critical care settings.

For my friend, this incident may well be the last straw. She is definitely leaving L & D. Why would she want to stay? The workplace culture on this unit is awful. She feels alone and isolated when going into work. She can’t trust her colleagues. “Why,” she asks, “would anyone want to work there? There is no teamwork. No solidarity. Nurses backstab each other at the first opportunity.”

The only question remaining is whether my friend will leave nursing altogether and take her 25-plus years of experience with her, which included not only the knowledge to provide expert care to patients, but the potential to share that expertise in mentoring and nurturing new nurses. She’s uncertain what she would otherwise do, but leaning towards abandoning the profession which has shaped her adult life. She only needs an out — which she hasn’t found yet. She is that disgusted.

You might tell me that stories like this are unusual and not representative of nursing. Unfortunately, we all know better. So in the end, I don’t blame my friend for wanting to leave. I would do the same.

So what would be your response?

UPDATE: Some comments from Twitter:

@TweeterERNurse @TorontoEmerg I was “spoken to” about helping other nurses too much, as it increases MY pts time in the ER. I applied for another job.

@SqarerootofeviL sad but true.. seen my ma & aunt live it.- “No teamwork. No solidarity. Nurses backstab each other at the first opportunity.” @torontoemerg

@NorthernMurse @TorontoEmerg So how do we change this culture? What do I, as a student and soon new grad, do to improve the #NursingCulture?

@TweeterERNurse @NorthernMurse @TorontoEmerg Learn more than your manager about regulations. Google everything on the inservice boards. Become the expert.

The second to last tweet from @NorthernMurse is probably the relevant question, don’t you think?

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Fat Nurses Need Not Apply Revisited

More on the Texas hospital, Citizens Medical Center, which banned fat people from being hired. Citizens Medical Center, you might remember, made it policy to exclude new hires with a body mass index >35, and explicitly stated employees appearance should “fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional . . . free from distraction” for patients. Medscape has a video (sorry, couldn’t figure out how to embed) from a medical ethicist named Art Caplan with another point of view. Partial transcript:

Look, I’m all for trying to set a good example and I think there are plenty of businesses where being thin and being in shape really do matter. I guess if you run a modeling agency it is very important. But I’m not convinced, really, that putting in weight restrictions is the best idea in terms of sending out the right message or a necessary message to patients. Patients, I think, can work with their doctors to try to overcome common problems. Doctors see all kinds of patients with all kinds of habits and all kinds of lifestyles. I think patients can deal with seeing all kinds of healthcare workers with all kinds of habits and all kinds of lifestyles. If they want a thin one, they should be able to pick one, but I don’t think the hospital necessarily should have to say that only the thin ones can work here. [Emphasis mine.]

Really? That last bit sounds needlessly, well, stupid. Does he really think patients should be allowed to choose their health care providers on the basis of their appearance?  “Let’s see. . . ” one can imagine patients musing, “that nurse is too fat. Tht nurse is too old. That nurse is too. . . dark. That nurse is too male. That nurse is too Muslim. That nurse is too gay.” And so on. Apart from fostering bigotry and discrimination, and demeaning and devaluing staff, in practical terms, you’d soon run out of nurses. I mean, not every nurse looks is thin, white, young and female.

One more thing. I understand there is a role for hospital policies regulating appearance: hygiene, facial hair, tattoos, uniforms and jewellery are usually targeted. Fair enough. I also understand the need for an ethicist to weigh (so to speak) both sides of the issue, but isn’t there some point where, after all is said and done, you have to say evaluating people of the basis of their body characteristics  in general is just wrong? I don’t think that medical ethicist Art Caplan exactly said it was wrong. Making a value judgement, that employers treating nurses and physicians as human beings with inherent dignity and worth, is important. It might even be a good place to start.

[UPDATE] Also, too, these thoughts from a writer named Susan Pape at Policymic.com:

When I am in need of hospital care, I want the staff to be the best, hardest working, most talented, most caring available. I do not care if they are overweight. Employing health care providers on the basis of their competence is a matter of life or death …to me.

And.

Obesity is not a choice, and it is not immoral.

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Fat Nurses Need Not Apply

A Texas hospital has declared war on the scourge of obese nurses:

A Victoria [Texas]  hospital already embroiled in a discrimination lawsuit filed by doctors of Indian descent has instituted a highly unusual hiring policy: It bans job applicants from employment for being too overweight. 

The Citizens Medical Center policy, instituted a little more than a year ago, requires potential employees to have a body mass index of less than 35 — which is 210 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-5, and 245 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-10. It states that an employee’s physique “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” including an appearance “free from distraction” for hospital patients.

“The majority of our patients are over 65, and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance,” hospital chief executive David Brown said in an interview. “We have the ability as an employer to characterize our process and to have a policy that says what’s best for our business and for our patients.”

It all sounds so, well, high-schoolish, and I don’t think the CEO is seventeen, though he’s acting like it. I mean, can you get any more shallow? Since when does physical appearance have anything to do with competence or worth or dignity of any health care professional?

Or maybe David Brown doesn’t really believe nurses actually have skills — we just stand around as decoration, lookin’ pretty.

And fitting the  “representational image” of hospital employees to meet patient “expectations?” What the hell does that mean, anyway? If  patients expect this (and this is a pretty common “representation”)

A representational image of a nurse

then hiring practices should make sure all nurses are boobalicious? What if the patients want all-white nurses? Or all females? Or no Muslims?

The man is a bit of a dink, obviously. I can only imagine how valued overweight nurses employed by this hospital must feel.

The article goes on to note that this David Brown, CEO of Citizens Medical Center, has some issues. In 2007  he wrote memo about some foreign-born physicians in which he  stated: “I feel a sense of disgust but am more concerned with what this means to the future of the hospital as more of our Middle-Eastern-born physicians demand leadership roles and demand influence.”  He continued, “It will change the entire complexion of the hospital and create a level of fear among our employees.”

Needless to say, there is a discrimination lawsuit over that.

So let’s summarize what the leadership at Citizens Medical Center believes: scary scary fat nurses scaring patients. Scary scary dark-skinned physicians scaring employees and patients.

Clearly a place where I would want to work. Or be treated.

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Arizona is Where Educating Patients is Bad, Bad, Bad: An Amanda Trujillo Update

Just a few words about Amanda Trujillo.  Jennifer Olin at RNCentral.com has detailed at the latest twists and turns of her case. I won’t repeat everything, but I want to comment instead on the Arizona State Board of Nursing’s latest action. The BoN has added a further charge that Trujillo has misrepresented herself as “an end of life” specialist because she counselled and educated patients about end of life care, using the materials provided by her employer, Banner Health.

This is pretty outrageous, and I think, an abuse of process. Let me elaborate from my point of view as an Emergency department nurse. In the course of any shift I may give advice and education on:

  • wound care and dressing changes — but I am not a nurse specialist on wound care and dressings
  • casts and splints — but I am not a specialist in orthopaedic nursing
  • diet for cases of gastroenteritis — but I am not a dietitian
  • prescriptions — but I am not a pharmacist
  • preparation for diagnostic imaging — but I am not a radiography tech
  • advise first time pregnancies on the benefits of breastfeeding — but I am not a lactation nurse
  • head injury routine — but I am not a nurse specialist in neurology
  • treatment of fever in children — but I am not a paeds nurse

Now according to the Arizona State Board of Nursing, I am representing myself as a specialist in all of these areas, and probably a few score more that I haven’t listed. By the considered, professional judgement of the nursing leadership inhabiting the halls of the Arizona State Board of Nursing, I should just shut up, because I am clearly qualified to do squat.

The Arizona State Board of Nursing evidently believes nurses educating patients on anything is beyond their scope of practice. And by extension, nurses educating patients puts patients in danger.

Ridiculous?

Absolutely. And this is why this latest charge is a trumped-up nonsense. Nursing as a profession would cease to exist in Arizona if nurses had to meet the stringent requirements the BoN now apparently requires, if nurses need some sort of official certification as “specialist” before providing education of any sort. The “position” now put forward by the Board of Nursing is contradicts widely accepted nursing practice. Providing health teaching is the standard of care around the world. This is what nurses do. In my jurisdiction, you can be disciplined for not providing appropriate education.

Jennifer Olin puts it this way:

This just makes no sense. Trujillo may be interested in end-of-life issues, she admitted herself that she had provided such information to patients previous to the one involved in this incident with no objections from physicians or hospital management. In fact, that evening, she even cleared her plan of care with the clinical manager.

This is not claiming to be a certified specialist. We are nurses. We are expected to know quite a bit and, more importantly, how to find information for our clients and ourselves. The information Trujillo provided was pulled straight from the information banks of the hospital’s own computer system.

Exactly. This is what we know as nurses. We educate. To claim otherwise is to run against the experience and practice of millions of fully qualified and competent nurses. The Arizona Board of Nursing knows this too. They are nurses, after all. You can only conclude the Board is grasping at straws at this point, hoping to harass or intimidate Trujillo into submission.

The next step is an evidentiary hearing, for which the Board of Nursing has not yet set a date. As of next month it will be a year since this business started. The wheels of justice grind slowly, it’s said. Let’s just hope they grind as finely as advertised.

One more note: I spoke at length with Amanda yesterday, and she is very well and in good spirits. Her lawyer has asked her not to comment publicly further on her case, so I can’t relay what she told me. However, I will say the story grows more convoluted by the day and there is far more going on than can be publicly mentioned. So stay tuned!

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Just Lie Back and Think of Florence — Or Not

Nurse K, possibly the doyenne of nurse bloggers, gives her two cents on Amanda Trujillo. Her advice is to surrender:

Yes, I’m going to say it: Forget advocating.  Be humble.  Be honest and consistent.  Go through the process.  Listen to your attorney.  Your most important asset as a terminated person is an unrestricted nursing license and lack of bitterness.  Get advice from your attorney and mentors about what to say in job interviews about your termination.  Rehearse your answers to the question of “why were you terminated from Banner Health.”  Don’t decide that you’re never working for a hospital again and you don’t care what anyone thinks. You’re a single mom on welfare with a termination on your record; you don’t have the luxury of being picky. 

This termination was not about who can order a case management consult.  This was the typical crap that I saw every day.  Someone important (in this case, the surgeon who was to perform the transplant) [it was a gastroenterologist, not the transplant surgeon,  incidentally — ed.] looks bad or is pissed at someone for something and demands a termination and the thing spirals out of control.

This type of stuff is a hospital culture problem and certainly needs to stop, but a terminated employee is not going to stop anything like that, so don’t expose yourself to the world as a fired person with a chip on their shoulder. 

Well, fair enough. You pick your battles. What she’s suggesting is that for Amanda Trujillo, maybe this wasn’t the hill to die on. This is true in some, maybe even most, cases. It is excellent advice, in fact. I have a friend whose employer reported her to the College of Nurses of Ontario  — the semi-equivalent of state boards of nursing — for a serious med error that contributed to the death of a patient. She went through the process, humble and contrite, and received a formal written caution and oral reprimand.  Her employer supported her through her rehabilitation, worked out a mentorship and learning plan with her; she took a refresher course on medication. She is still practicing. This is how the system is supposed to work, right?

To paraphrase Queen Victoria, just lie back and think of Florence. I don’t think I am caricaturing Nurse K’s position here, not much anyway. Most times, silence is golden and discretion is the better part of valour, and all those other platitudes your mother taught you.

But then, this isn’t a conventional case. Let’s review for minute: Trujillo offers a patient information regarding an organ transplant and arranges, as per usual practice and at the patient’s request, a hospice care consult; this angers a physician; she is arbitrarily fired for exceeding her scope of practice in ordering this consult, which was inside her scope the day before; no one was harmed or put at risk, except, perhaps, the physician’s ego; Banner Health, Trujillo’s employer, reports her to the Arizona State Board of Nursing for practicing outside scope of practice  which — I can’t say this enough — was practicing inside scope of practice the day before; the case languishes for months and months in some sort of bizarre Board of Nursing limbo; then the moment Trujillo’s case caught the attention of some ratty-end nurse bloggers, the Board of Nursing orders a psych consult, evidently because publicly defending yourself makes you crazy; the Board of Nursing subsequently (and in a highly dubious fashion) informs Trujillo’s university she’s under investigation, then denies it despite clear proof to the contrary; and now the latest buffoonery, a new accusation from the Board of Nursing that Trujillo has “misrepresented” herself as to her academic credentials.

If this is a typical case, we are all in trouble.

And there’s this observation: isn’t shutting up and going away what employers and managers and nursing boards expect front line nurses to do? Don’t make trouble, nurses. It’s unbecoming. It will just make things worse — yes, for you. Don’t advocate for yourself — because — we will call you crazy. You will be screwed over — and you will like it!

The thing is, even before all the fuss, it’s hard to imagine how this could have gotten worse for Amanda Trujillo. If the fix is in, if you’re being railroaded by your employer, and the state Board of Nursing (as Nurse K says) is shady and duplicitous, being demure and helpful and willing to take your lumps is not going to help you. And why in the name of everything that is sacred and good should you help someone who is seeking to harm you? And as for meekness and docility now? Seems rather besides the point now.

In any case, nurse as silent martyr is not a great image. Nurse as battered wife is worse. Advocacy for yourself, and for your profession is sometimes not one of many bad choices, it is the only choice. Because of circumstances yes, but also because it is right. And as Nurse Ratched points out, often it only takes one pebble to start an avalanche.

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Doctors Are From Mars, Nurses Are From — Oh, To Hell With It

News flash! From Fierce Medical News, here’s the shocking headline:

Docs, nurses miscommunicate on respect, job role

When you guys pick yourselves off the floor from laughing, here’s the money quote:

In particular, the survey found differing views of how doctors treat nurses. According to 42 percent of nurse leaders, physician abuse or disrespect of nurses was common, whereas only 13 percent of physician leaders said it was common. Fifty-eight percent of nurse leaders considered disrespect for nurses uncommon, while 88 percent of physician leaders said it was uncommon at their healthcare organizations.

“I do believe nurses and physicians are on two different pages when it comes to communication,” Pam Kadlick, vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer for Ohio’s Mercy St. Anne Hospital, said in a HealthLeaders Media article. “Nurses have a tendency to give a very detailed report, more than what a physician may want to hear; hence, the physician may interrupt, seem to be abrupt, even rude at times.”

But most physicians don’t consider such behavior to be disrespectful, she noted.

You’re telling me abuse of nurses is all about physicians being insensitive, maybe, and nurses having too many hurt fee-fees? Really? And nurses are supposed to be surprised that physicians “don’t consider such behavior to be disrespectful?”

Why does this sound like a ’80s sitcom?

Why does this sound like this report is trying to validate abusive physician behaviour?

You can only shake your head. And you just know, somewhere, in a darkened office maybe, in an obscure corner of a mega health care corporation, a manager is reading this report and exclaiming, “I knew nurses were to blame!”

I will very happily concede abusive behaviour of all kinds has declined markedly in my own time as a nurse, though I will say I work in an institution that enforces a zero tolerance policy against abusive behaviour. Moreover, the physicians I work with, shoulder to shoulder, are lovely and professional, and there is a true sense of collaboration. This makes for excellent patient care.

However, by no means is this true everywhere. So let’s not pretend the brow-beating, the mocking, the chart-throwing, the patronizing  — to be blunt, treating nurses like you wouldn’t treat your mother, daughter, wife, bank clerk, Wal-Mart greeter, housekeeper, or dog — still doesn’t go on. Denial will never fix the problem, either from physicians — or nurses.

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Nurses are Like Howler Monkeys, Poo and All

When I was a young, inexperienced nurse, I quickly learned one lesson: the cliché that Emergency nurses are fabulously assertive, mouthy, in-your-face pitbulls is absolutely true. I don’t mean ED nurses are bitchy or backstabbing eat-their-own-young types, though this was true also, at least for some of them. I mean this: the Emergency department is a ballet of constrained chaos most days, with many competing claims for attention for the physician, the charge nurse, and your colleagues; if your patient is sick, you need to be assertive, walk right up to the physician and say, “Doctor, this patient is sick. You need to come look at him right now.” This, admittedly, takes a considerable amount of confidence and an ego the size of a battleship, if you are a new graduate, but the alternative, i.e. the patient dies, is not considered good nursing practice.

A little later in my nursing career one of those battle-axe nurses we all dislike decided she had an issue with me — which is to say, she was nearly shouting at me in front of every nurse in the department — over a triage record she thought was incomplete. When she finished, I asked her quietly asked her to step in our to step into our psych quiet room. I said her behaviour was unacceptable. I asked her to speak with me privately if she had a concern about my practice. I informed her if she ever tried taking me out again, I would speak to the manager. For that point on, until she left the department, this nurse avoided me like the plague. This was good. I deserved to work in a toxin-free workplace, right? More importantly, my patients deserved a nurse who wasn’t stressed out by harassment.

Somewhat after that, I began this blog. After writing some funny stories about strange patients and some sarcastic stories about irrational physicians I began to realize there was far more potential — and interest, if truth be told, because stupid patients stories on the Intertubes are as common as erectile dysfunction spam — in writing about how all the things I saw in the Emergency department related to larger issues surrounding the nursing profession and health care in general. To advocate, in other words. I think I have done this, in some small modest way.

This is how I see advocacy then, as a nurse: first for our patients (Jennifer Olin has some good elaboration here), then for ourselves personally, then for our profession. Needless to say, I’m a strong advocate for all of these. I believe most nurses are, if they think about it.

This brings me to my point. Whatever your perspective on the case of Amanda Trujillo, you might think the whole controversy would be a great opportunity for a thorough look at some hard issues related to advocacy.

There has been a lot of off-topic criticism directed at supporters of Amanda Trujillo — myself included —  for pushing the issue too hard. Mostly, this amounts to personal attacks on her advocates, or that her problems are merely a human resources issue, or that “people” are “tired” about hearing about the case, or that Trujillo is crazy or not credible or both, or that we’re all emotional, or that we’re engaging in bizarre conspiracy theories, or that we’re all drinking the Kool-Aid (because supporting Trujillo is like a cult and/or we’re mindless zombies) or that we all should just sit down and shut up, or that “real” advocates for the profession have advanced degrees and repose in legacy institutions like the American Nurses Association, or that we should trust Banner Health’s judgement (because health care corporations never screw up, I suppose), or we should wait for the disciplinary process at the Arizona Board of Nursing (because the Board investigates all cases correctly and without bias) or (my favourite) that we shouldn’t be “blowing up the Internet” because that will make things “worse” for Trujillo (God knows how, at this point) or lastly, that we don’t have all the facts. (I stipulate to the last, but I don’t think it’s all that relevant — an arguable point, I guess.)

What I am not hearing from the contras is any sustained discussion about what patient advocacy means in the context of a complex, conflicted health care environment, or what places nurses have in informing patients about treatment options, or how to effectively (and collectively) support nurses working in hostile environments, or what to do when hospital policy conflicts with basic nursing ethics, or what advocacy means for nurses in the age of social media.

What I am not hearing from the critics, to be precise, is why Trujillo was wrong to give her patient information on all treatment options, why Banner Health was right to fire Trujillo for what (at worst) could be construed as a minor practice issue, why nurse managers should always bow to angry physicians, why nurses advocating for patients is bad, why Banner Health reporting Trujillo to the state Board of Nursing — a one line complaint! — was necessary to protect the public from harm, why a group of us — including some blogging heavyweights like Emergiblog and Nurse Ratched — have utterly misplaced our passion in supporting Trujillo, and why, finally it is inappropriate to talk about this all over the Internet.

Instead all we get is a lot of fast talk, bloviation and (deliberate?) misinformation. I once hiked in the Guatemalan rainforest near the Mayan ruins at Tikal and a troop of howler monkeys followed us for a long time, flinging poo all the while. I’m having the same sensation now.

Nurses do to each other online exactly as we do to each other in real life. Fling poo. It’s sad, really, that for all our sophistication about social media and tech, things don’t really ever change.

I get that emotions are running high, on both sides. Even so, is it even possible have a serious conversation about Trujillo and what it means to be a nurse and advocate? Even me, secret Pollyanna I am, is beginning to doubt it.

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Note of Clarification: The Arizona Nurses Association issued this statement on their Facebook page, which I am glad to reproduce:  “When AzNA first became aware of this case, Teri Wicker, AzNA President identified a conflict of interest (between AzNA and her employer [Banner Health]) and voluntarily recused herself related to any AzNA discussions or decisions.”

[Cross-posted at NurseUp.com]

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