Wednesday, May 7, 2008

National Nurse's Week

The roots of International Nurses Day goes back to 1953, when Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a "Nurse Day" in October of the following year. The proclamation was not officially made, but, this day was born and eventually gained national recognition. International Nurse Day is celebrated on May 12, because this it's the birthday of Florence Nightingale. In 2003, National School Nurses Day was moved from the fourth Wednesday in January to the Wednesday of Nurses Week. Many websites are unaware of this change and still list it as January. I'm going to rant a bit....

This is my chosen profession. Sometimes I wish I had stayed on course to be a school teacher instead because I like the idea of a couple of months off every summer and a decent Christmas break without having to try and get everything I want to do all year into my 2 1/2 weeks' vacation. But, it's been a good profession because of the variety it offers. I have been able to try out various jobs and there have been aspects I have enjoyed in each - of course nothing is perfect but I've learned a lot along the way. I especially enjoyed the years I was able to work part-time but I realize now that didn't help me get ready for retirement very well! I would sure love more time to keep up the house and yard, help my kids with their kids, and have some time for hobbies, travel, and recreation too. I always wanted a boat - or at least a jet ski - but when would I really get to use it?

The flexibility as a nurse allowed me to work evenings and nights to reduce day care costs and stress for the most part, but it was always insane that "day shift" began at 7:00 AM. How do you get small children out the door and make it to work by then? Even once they are in school it's way earlier than they start. A twelve hour shift is really 13 by the time you finish and have report. Add commute time and that's hard on families too, even though you get more days off in a week. So, eventually I opted out of the hospital and appreciated getting nights, weekends and holidays off. At least I had a profession that would offer this option even though it meant taking a cut in pay. The trade-off was worth it to me.

Nurses are definitely not adequately appreciated. I chuckle when I see shows on TV such as ER depicting doctors crawling all over each other in the department and doing EVERYTHING. Those who know realize the doctor is the rare bird here and though he is irreplaceable, the nurses are doing most of the day to day and crisis intervention work. The doctors come when called by the nurses and when needed for their own abilities but you'll see little of them when you're the patient in the hospital. Other support staff are also important, but when it comes right down to it, your comfort and most of your education, safety, healing and sense of caring comes from the nurses. Of course, just like there are bad teachers (and every other discipline), there are bad nurses. In many cases not really bad; just stretched too far and burned out. Nurses are also the first to be cut when a hospital wants to reduce cost, even though their worth is much greater than what they are paid. When I worked in the hospital the supervisor would run around and make sure nurses are sent home once enough patients were discharged, so just when you might have had a minute to catch up, breathe, and do some charting or extra cares, you were out the door and the remaining nurses picked up your patients. Of course when you were short-staffed you also picked up the slack and took on more than the usual load. So, I resented that there was no balance. We took on extra when needed but couldn't benefit from a slow period to compensate!

On the other hand, the hospitals wine and dine the docs - even go so far as to offer some of them free office space to entice them. They "sell" their facility with their impressive list of physicians. Make no mistake - when Chris was injured we were so glad to have a fine hand surgeon available to do the intricate repair that was required, but the nurse he had that night was amazing! He was all about making Chris comfortable and keeping him safe. (Unfortunately, he was discharged to home way too soon, resulting in much pain that might have been alleviated in the hospital, but, that's the nature of our current health care system of drive-through surgery.)

My other pet peeve is when people refer to a doctor's nurse who is, in fact, a medical assistant (MA) with minimal training. These people also serve an important function on a health care team because most offices won't pay for a nurse. But, please don't call them a nurse when they aren't. It devalues nurses when people think that what an assistant knows is what a nurse knows. The educational background of a registered nurse is extensive.

So, please remember a nurse this week and don't assume a nurse is a wanna-be doc. We often hear, "you're so smart, why didn't you become a doctor?" Nurses have a unique role different from the doctor and they need to be smart to perform that function well. Hug a nurse!

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