On NPR’s “The Call-In,” nursing is just as hard as low-skilled tending can be!
On Weekend Edition Sunday, several direct care nurses addressed the state of nursing. Unfortunately, what came across was mostly the suffering angel stereotype, with no real sign that nurses are educated professionals who save lives. And professor Peter Buerhaus’s comments about understaffing and nurse practitioner care were damaging distortions.
January 14, 2018 – Today National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday devoted its weekly “The Call-In” feature to “The Nursing Industry,” inviting nurses to call and address recent changes in the profession. Host Lulu Garcia-Navarro reported that NPR got “a lot” of responses, and some of those the show included did convey that the profession is worthwhile—and exhausting. But there were few specifics about what nurses actually do for patients, beyond providing vague emotional support. One nurse even stressed that she did not get into the profession to “save lives or anything.” Another nurse said that the profession had “evolved” and was “not just fluffing pillows and passing medications.” But that left the wrong impression that at some undefined time in the past—maybe not so long ago—nursing really was just about unskilled comfort and following physician commands, with no scientific basis or autonomous scope of care. And the piece included no substantial description of what nursing is now. So the overall effect was to strongly reinforce the unskilled angel stereotype.
The piece also offered comments from Montana State University nursing professor Peter Buerhaus. He made a couple fair points about the ongoing nursing shortage, including the risks posed by the retirement of experienced baby-boomer-generation nurses. But when invited to address the problem of nurses being overworked, Buerhaus’s comments were limited to the role of increased documentation demands. His comments failed to address the roots of the problem in the reduction of RN staffing levels, relative to acuity, as a cost-cutting measure. And Buerhaus failed to mention that research has shown nurse understaffing to be costing lives worldwide. He did note that all that paperwork is taking nurses “away from the essence of establishing a relationship with a patient.” We estimate 0-1 listeners will translate that into “the shortage is killing people.” In addition, when Buerhaus was asked to explain what nurse practitioners (NPs) are, he presented them as graduate-prepared nurses who can fill gaps caused by physician shortages, suggesting they are just physician substitutes. There was no mention of the research showing NP care is at least as effective as that of physicians, nor of NPs’ ability to practice autonomously under the holistic nursing practice model, which many patients actually prefer. Of course, it is possible that Buerhaus and the other nurses had more helpful things to say, and NPR simply did not use those comments. But what we got was almost 10 minutes of national radio that suggested nurses are good-hearted but low-skilled and probably expendable—the same views held by decision-makers whose disregard has put the profession under the very stress the piece describes. We thank all involved for trying, but we hope future efforts will provide a better picture of nursing.
Listen to “The Call-In” about “The Nursing Industry,” on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday, posted on January 14, 2018.
2 thoughts on “A beautiful sentiment”
Seems we have a communication issue amongst the nurses themselves. Also, rare to find an individual either in the clinical field or in academics that can encapsulate what nursing was all about decades ago to where we have evolved today in terms of research/science based educated care. The public should know that the average nurse has a higher reading level educational level than the average citizen. And, LOL, the future may very well hold Space Nursing as a career choice, especially since a clinical doctorate will be required across the board to practice by future generations of nurses. Human adaptation in space has a definite role for nurses.
Simultaneous to this evolvement in practice/theory have been some real economic problems faced by the hospital industry and has been for decades. Historically, the first group to be down sized as a cost cutting measure is nursing. Additionally there is so much monetary loss to material waste in hospitals and unnecessary costs of incredible perks provided to physicians as a retention/recruitment strategy, such as free college tuition for their children, summer cottages and so on. Physicians earn more than nurses with comparable credentials. The increase in aging baby boomers will require in the very near future, emphasis on caring for people with geriatric concerns/needs. Coupled with rising acuity, that has already spelled a safety nightmare . Safe and intelligent care goes out the window. Why then are hospitals reducing the nursing workforce to fund any physicians children’s education? Hospitals are also encouraging early retirement with flimsy benefits to do so. That effort further undermines the care lost from experienced clinicians that might other wise stay the course a little longer.
The demands on the younger generation of nurses is frightening as no human being should be stretched to their physical/mental and emotional limits on a daily basis. And, for what we do and what we are accountable for, we should be making the salary of a football player.
Shortage of primary care physicians places the advanced care practitioner in an advantageous position and also benefits the public with their effectiveness in the field and wholistic philosophy. Economics can further drive this benefit out into the community. Conversely, economics has been a nightmare in the best of hospitals that seek to maximize the use of their labor intensive nurses at a minimum of cost.
We are in dire need of prioritizing where hospital dollars are spent, requiring a shift in culture and values. I am a surgical nurse (RN, MSN, CPAN) of 42 years, still practicing.
If, as an RN, you could not talk about anything else, why didn’t you talk about your role in patient education? Who else but the nurse does this and does it so well? Does the doctor? Does the office receptionist? How about the person who gives your your appointment for your colonoscopy? A nurse is the one giving instructions for diets, vaccine precautions, weight bearing, medication administration, side effects and everything else you could think of. Can you only complain about the burden of documentation or how hard you work or how short staffed you are? We all know those things. Tell the public things they don’t know and why they need you and only you. I have been a nurse for 50 years and there has not been a day I have not used my patient education skills, let another profession say that.