Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I don’t know why I’m writing to you as I don’t know how you can remedy my problem nor have I seen anything in your columns that remotely address it. I am considered a ‘newbee’ nurse, as I have just recently graduated an accelerated nursing program, due to the shortage of nurses and doctors because of COVID, so no one really takes me seriously. Being still considered a novice to the craft, and in spite of being fully educated, I need to sharpen my skill through actually working and learning on the job.
Here’s my problem and my grave disappointment in what I have encountered during my short time of practice in a large hospital, fresh out of nursing school. The seasoned nurses, most of them, are absolutely heartless, and often ignore patients who need assistance. This is one thousand percent worse at night, as I’ve done a few night shifts. when I run to assist as many of the night calls as I physically can handle single-handedly and with confidence that I am executing my task correctly without supervision, I get chastised by the other nurses for encouraging the patients to use the call buttons all night long.
Mrs. Bluth, most of the patients are elderly and alone and my heart aches for them. They are frightened to be in a hospital and most of them use the call button for some human care and compassion more than anything else. But compassion and respect for human dignity is in small supply in almost every institution. I know, because I experience it myself when trying to reach out to the seasoned nurses for pointers, and help sometimes, when I need clarity on procedures and technique I can only master by watching others to see how it should be done. A great part of becoming a good nurse is not learned from textbooks but from watching professionals do it.
I am very discouraged, thinking that perhaps I went into the wrong field of work. I’ve always loved helping people and don’t find it at all demeaning or tiring, yet, what I have encountered from my long time, sister-nurses, is complaints of being overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. Am I the only nurse who sees it as a privilege to help these elderly and lonely people and don’t see it as an affront or abuse or feel overworked or taken advantage of? This is what we, as nurses, have signed up to do, so why are so many of them angry, lazy and bitter?
I have been warned by the night shift never to complain about them not attending to the patients at night, as they often congregate in the nurses lounge and ignore the buzzers. If I choose to answer the calls, that’s my choice, they say. They also say they will report me on charges of neglect and insubordination should I make any trouble for them. One of them took me aside and said I hadn’t been on the job nearly long enough to understand the ‘whats’ and the ‘whys’ of the seasoned nurse’s actions so I best stay quiet, do my job and stay in line. Who’s right here? I’m so confused and disgusted and worried that I’ve chosen the wrong career for myself in my desire to help the helpless.
This is not a new problem you are writing about. In fact, it can be found in almost every hospital, geriatric and rehabilitation institution and old-age homes. Sad to say, there is little tolerance for the elderly and chronically ill in our society from family members to health care staff and institutions. The elderly and infirm in our society are often neglected.
To answer your question and explain to a small degree your accusations, I would have to note what I experienced with my own elderly parents, a”h, when they needed the health care we were not equipped to handle ourselves. No matter when or where or however long their stays in the hospital or rehab centers, we never left them alone, day or night. This often made a great difference in the attention they received from doctor and nursing staff, because we took care of the menial and mundane things that cropped up during their stay that kept the nursing staff from dealing with the important work for their health. My brothers and I took shifts for day and night stays and Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim so that neither one of our parents were ever alone or unattended.
Being a nurse is a noble profession chosen by very special people, as a rule, people much like yourself. I imagine every man or woman who went into the nursing profession did so with the same sterling intentions and good heart as you did, but the years of wear and tear and abuse from certain patients have worn them down, compounded by the long hours, little pay and very often being taken for granted and not appreciated, made a thousand percent worse by the glut of nurses due to burnout from COVID and mental stresses, it’s not hard to understand where the nobility of the craft falls by the wayside and the patients suffer the fall-out.
Don’t be disillusioned by what you see as the decline of the nursing ideal and try to hold onto your beautiful and noble desire to help those in need. You are young and inexperienced in both life and your chosen craft but you can hold onto your wonderful ideals, by remembering that no one stays young forever, every young person will one day, if they are blessed with a lengthy life, become old and possibly infirm and reliant on children or strangers for their care. You are in a position to teach the seasoned staff that seemed to have waylaid why they became nurses and doctors by the example you set, showing them what a steady stream of love, compassion and caring can yield. Also helpful would be if you could encourage family members to put in more of a presence for their family member who is institutionalized. It would greatly cut down on the mundane chores of wear and tear outside of actual nurse participation, like feeding, entertaining and consoling the fearful and aged family members. This would leave a greater ability for the nurses to do what they were trained to do without diminishing them. As far as pay is concerned, that’s a bit out of my field of expertise.
Thank you for bringing to light a very important issue. Don’t let go of your high calling and your amazing desire to help people, a commodity more and more rare in this day. We must never forget that no one is responsible for our elderly parents but us, their children! If caring for the two people who cared for us is impossible 24/7, at least make sure that the help you choose for them is the very best by helping out as much as possible. A nurse is not a machine that works non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She is a human being who loves to help people, cares a great deal for their well-being and appreciates your realization of that fact. And so will your elderly parent/s or other relative/s finding themselves in a strange environment often away from their homes and all the familiarity that brings them comfort. In this way everyone will be happy, fulfilled and working towards better health.