Building a Healthy America
Why nurses have become a vital part of the healthcare continuum
We celebrate Nurses Appreciation Day in May, and I challenge you to think about what it is you’d like to be appreciated for. Overall, we could probably skip the cake, flowers and mugs if we just got a sincere “thank you” for doing a great job. But what constitutes a job well done? That we saved a life, or made a great patient assessment, or got our work done on time with minimum effort? That we saved the hospital money, or even just spent a little time with a patient when they needed something extra? Whatever it is that deserves appreciation probably involved critical thinking, some native intuition and a lot of education, but you’d never know that from watching television or reading the mainstream newspapers or magazines. In fact, if these media were your only connection to nursing you’d never know what nurses do at all.
Sandy Summers, author of the book Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All At Risk, wants to open our eyes to the way the media portray nursing, and she has painstakingly surveyed every nursing mention that she could find over the last several years. She began back in graduate school and since that time has made her observations available on her website The Truth About Nursing. Most notable is the television drama “ER,” the longest running and at times most popular television show on which physicians routinely perform nursing functions while the nurses themselves seem unsure of what their place in the hospital really is (other than to help the doctors). In fact, one character was both a medical student and a nurse, portraying the positions as interchangeable. We know that’s not the case.
Nursing gets more difficult and increasingly specialized. As more surgery is done on an outpatient basis the patients that are in-hospital are sicker and require additional attention. Emergency rooms take on care for people without insurance and treat unexpected conditions. Graduate nurses routinely enter into ICU or CCU work and no longer start on med-surg units because in there you treat the really ill patients that surgical and rehab centers cannot care for. It’s an entirely different healthcare world, not for the faint of heart, and definitely no longer just for women or anyone not sure about what they want to do with their life. Increasingly, nursing is a choice, not a default career.
How do nurses help build a healthy America? Health education and patient advocacy is not a bad start. Teach your patients how to speak up for themselves. Let them know that they can ask for generic medications, alternative procedures, second opinions and question their billing. You can try to reform the system — or at least try to make a dent. Let the human resources department at your facility know what kind of insurance plan you need and what it should cover, then hold on to that enthusiasm and write or speak with your elected officials. There’s a dearth of care for the elderly, our fastest growing group. That’s a health problem that will need to be addressed soon, as well as evidence-based services for autism, another fast growing group.
There are two million of us. We’re a vital part of the healthcare continuum. People trust and depend on us. Let’s let them know we’re more than women and men in white — or scrubs or clogs. Hospitals can’t operate without us, so let’s use the power that we have to build a healthcare system that will take us into the future.
The Truth About Nurses
Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, has worked as a nurse since 1979 and has written extensively for various nursing publications, as well as The New York Times.
This article is from workingnurse.com.