Nurse: A Gofer Or A Partner In Healthcare?

Photo credit: abcnews.go.com
Photo credit: abcnews.go.com

If you are a nurse or know of nurses, you know that nurses are an integral part of the healthcare system today. If healthcare is like a brick building, nurses are the mortar that holds the bricks together. No mortar, no stability, no building! Nurses play a vital role in keeping the healthcare system together so it keeps running.

There would be no hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other facilities if nurses were not there to provide care round the clock. There will be no home hospice care if nurses were not there to manage the day to day care.

Perhaps it is this extreme dependence on nurses that has made it a target for oppression and control. Like in the old days when people were scared to free the slaves because they were extremely dependent on those slaves for the smooth running of their day to day lives such as keeping the house, minding the fields and so on.

Perhaps it is because nursing is primarily a female profession and comes with all the baggage women have carried for centuries of being subservient to men. Even with the entry of men in this profession, the culture of nursing remains a feminine culture with medicine as its male counterpart and therefore way more powerful, prestigious and desirable.

Whatever the reason might be, one thing is obvious. Nurses are treated as the gofers of the healthcare industry. They are constantly overworked, underpaid and often bullied, mistreated or ignored by the movers and shakers in the industry.

Now, I am not saying that nurses take all of it quietly. There are plenty of bold, smart and strong willed nurses out there. These are usually the ones who rise to the top to become managers, supervisors, administrators and advanced practice nurses.

But here is the problem with these bold nurses. Once they are in a leadership position, they have to make a choice between advocating for change, standing up for better work conditions in the clinical settings or keeping their jobs. After all they are evaluated on how well they keep their area functioning on a bare bone budget. This is the main reason they are hired as a manager.

Here is a perfect example of what I am talking about. I once worked for one of the largest hospices in the USA. A”leader” in the industry.They hired a new nurse manager a couple months before I left that company.

This new manager was very promising, very smart, outspoken and above all an advocate for the patients and the field nurses. She expected the best from us but she also understood the importance of allowing her nurses enough time to take care of the patients.

One of the things she said, while still new to the company, was, “Overtime happens. We have to look at it if it could have been avoided but if not, if your patients needed you and you have communicated with us its okay.” This one statement made me her fan for life-well almost…

As our new manager, she also advised us to turn our work cell phones off when we were not working so we did not have to attend to work related calls during our off hours and had time to relax and enjoy our personal and family lives.

By this time, I was her biggest fan. I thought, “Finally we have someone who can balance the business side of the company with the clinical side. Finally we have someone who stands up for the field staff.”

Unfortunately, my happiness was short lived! Within less than two months our new manager was trained to the “company policies and expectations”. Within two months, she began telling us, “keep your cell phone on. We might need to talk to you after hours.” No more did she listen to the clinical issues to find solutions, she told us the expectations and expected the clinical staff to follow them regardless.

What happened there? How did a strong, outspoken, smart and above all, an advocate for the patients and clinical staff turn into a heartless, uncaring supervisor?

As human beings we constantly make decisions with our survival as a primary goal. Mix into this survival game the sad truth about the still present oppression of all things feminine, which includes the nursing profession. This combination is not that pretty.

The nursing managers have to constantly make a choice between their own survival i.e. keeping their jobs and advocating for their fellow nurses. Ninety percent of times, the survival instinct takes over and we end up oppressing our own kind.

As a result, clinical nurses remain the gofers, the worker bees. Too rushed to nurse. Too tired to go on without getting burnt out. No wonder the attrition rate among nurses is so high, and it will remain high until nurses become partners in healthcare.

There is a need for a major over haul in how nursing is practiced. Although, we would like to think that this change should be initiated by ones outside nursing, in reality, we as nurses, will have to demand this change and stand up for ourselves.

Historically, any lasting major cultural and civic change has always been initiated by the people most affected by it. Take for example, the civil rights movement in America. If Martin Luther King Jr had not begun the movement to abolish slavery, perhaps we would still have slaves here.

Similarly, nurses have to join hands and begin a movement to abolish slavery in nursing. Hand in hand, we must march towards our goal and claim our right to be partners in healthcare. We must refuse to give in to our own survival needs and let our voices be heard loud and clear throughout the world.

Yours in love and peace,

Shahina Lakhani

Shahina Lakhani, RN, MSN, NLP Master Practitioner, Reunion Kinesiology Facilitator, Theta Healing Practitioner: Shahina has been a nurse for over 25 years. She has worked as an educator, Nurse Practitioner and a Hospice Nurse. Shahina is a holistic change expert. She empowers people to feel safe during major life change – divorce, serious illness or even if death is staring you in the eye. Her passion is to help you experience well-being and living powerfully until your last breath.

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