I read an article on line today that reports that a recent Gallup Poll of the public found nurses the most trusted professionals, and ten points ahead of doctors!
This is good news, if it is accurate, and nurses are in need of good news. For I, and every nurse my age that I know, are close to despair about the future of our profession. Across the country employers, stung by falling and failing government money, are declaring war on nurses' salaries and benefits. Nurses in California are striking hospitals that are threatening to eliminate paid sick leave and to take away the shift differentials that mitigate the miseries of working nights and weekends and holidays. Employers have grown bold, seeing the numbers of unemployed new graduate nurses, and they are not afraid to demand give backs from people they feel should be happy they have a job at all- I can remember one of my former nurse managers telling me that "hospitals can't afford us any more".
And soon, the situation will get worse. Hospitals stand to lose up to thirty percent of government reimbursement if the patients in those hospitals are not" satisfied" with their care. And they will lose even more if discharged patients end up coming right back to the hospital.
Not every patient can be satisfied. Not every patient can be fixed.
In some hospitals nurses must now wear phones so patients can call them directly. What happens when the nurse cannot answer the phone because she is doing a dressing change or giving insulin or talking to another one of her patients? The patient, or their family, is not satisfied. They call the supervisor to complain.
People with heart failure go home from the hospital, but cannot afford the medicine they need to keep them out of the hospital. Back in they will come, and the hospital and the people that work there will take the blame.
Discouraged, and without one idea how to fix this predicament, I look back now to 1971, and to what must have been a golden age for hospitals and health care. An age when squads of diploma nursing students staffed their hospitals for free. And who worked for $3.00 an hour when they became RNs. Who worked three out of four weekends and ten eight hour night shifts in a row. New nurses who needed no expensive orientation to wards they knew intimately. Nurses who had time to give patients back rubs because those nurses did not have to spend hours bar coding each medicine they gave and filling out eight pages of "documentation" on every patient they cared for. Nor had we yet entered the heart of The Tube Age, when nurses became jailers whose mantra was "Thou shall not pull out thy tubes." And oh how many tubes would be in our future, and they would get more care than the patients they were inserted in-
So let us return now to the antique days of September 1971. And I will leave you with the first sentence of the final chapter of my story of the old Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.
In the fall of 1971 I entered my third and final year of nursing school-
To be continued.