A neon “Shortage of Doctors” sign in front of any modern hospital would send patients fleeing in droves, driving the round asphalt driveway at warp speed right past the Emergency Room door, and right back onto the main highway, looking for the next hospital – one that was properly staffed.
Now why don’t patients do the same thing when they find out there’s a shortage of nurses?
Why? Because everyone knows what doctors do: they cure disease, they offer treatment, they save lives. Right? Oh God, that’s still the mindset of consumers and in healthcare? Doctors have always had good press.
Does anyone really know what nurses do?
The old images of nurses as a doctor’s handmaiden have disappeared but what has replaced those images? How many of us have told the public who nurses are?
Does the public know that we’re the ones who are at the bedside or at the nurses station, watching those high tech monitors, to make sure a critical patient’s heart rhythm is within normal range and doesn’t show an arrhythmia that is dangerous enough to kill that patient before we call a doctor? And if the doctor is busy somewhere else, have we told them that it’s the nurse who administers the medication and keeps that patient alive until the doctor gets there? When a patient’s trach gets plugged and that patient can’t breath, a nurse is the one who clears it. A nurse starts the IV, a nurse measures the medication, a nurse changes dressings, a nurse suggests blood work. When a nurse turns a patient in bed, she’s watching for bruising, pooling of blood to assess circulation, and it’s the nurse who is monitoring the changes in consciousness because the nurse is the one who knows the patient. The nurse is the first one who notices any disorientation, or change in a patient who is being evaluated for organ function. When that patient falls apart under the stress of being sick, of worrying about being a burden to his or her family and has no one to share the helplessness they feel because they know their sickness is using up the money they wanted to leave as a legacy to their family, do you think most doctors have the time to listen? Insurance and legislation is still trying to figure out whether a doctor can be paid for discussing a patients “dying” with him or her.
No, doctors aren’t paid for that by insurance and few of them are comfortable talking about the death of a patient, because no matter what anyone says, death often feels like a failure. And most doctors are warriors, still.
There is a place for doctors, and I’ve met some very good ones. But those doctors will tell you that life without nurses is hell for them and their patients.
Does anyone know how many doctors are required to take care of the patients in a 400 bed hospital? And if it’s on the night shift, does the public know that most of their doctors are home, asleep, and only residents and interns are filling in? Most residents and interns are worked to death on long shifts, without sleep, with very little experience. Where do you think they turn for help? Nurses with more experience than they have, that’s where.
So let’s put the blame for all that’s happening in healthcare where it belongs. And I believe it belongs to all of us who work within the system. All of us who’ve helped to make secret, with jargon and mystery, what really goes on in healthcare.
Then let’s all of us, as nurses, make it better. Our vow is that we will educate and advocate.
Let’s all of us begin to tell the public who nurses are, what they do, why they need us, and what will happen to them without us. They deserve that information, they are sick and vulnerable – not mentally challenged or children. Once we give them the information, then it’s possible for them to make informed decisions about their health care. But not one of us should be so arrogant as to assume that we know better than they do what they want for treatment or for their lives.
Patients are people. Sure, they’re weak and vulnerable when we get to see them, but they still deserve our respect.
That’s what Amanda Trujillo tried to do when she gave her patient the facts. Why is she, rather than the doctor and the rest of the hospital team, being censured? Is it because the woman got frightened and refused treatment? She had a right to be frightened and a right to her choice. That’s the social contract both healthcare workers and patients agree on. That’s in The Patients Bill of Rights.
Do you want less for yourself?

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Carol Gino RN MA Bestselling author of “The Nurse’s Story” and other books. https://www.hopefulhealer.com
team@hopefulhealer.com