One weird tip for avoiding injury and nervous breakdowns on the job
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My one weird tip for avoiding injury, inadequate staffing and a nervous breakdown?
Be a pain in somebody’s arse.
Nursing is primarily a woman’s job. Women are socialized to help other people, to be passive, to not put up a fuss. Nurses, especially, are trained and expected to sacrifice everything good about themselves for their patients or the places where they work.
My revolutionary idea is this: If just a few more people would commit to being pains in the arse, things would change.
What does this mean on the floor? Well, honestly, it means that some folks are going to be labeled as troublemakers. It means that some people will have to take uncomfortable stances, be asked difficult questions and be asked to justify their positions by the people in power.
Take what happened in Dallas earlier this year: Two nurses, who had not been trained properly or provided appropriate protective gear, were assigned to care for a patient with Ebola. The patient died. The nurses were both sick for quite a while. And the management of the hospital blamed the nurses for (what management later admitted was) poor planning and preparation on management’s part.
A whole bunch of nurses from that facility, and other facilities in the city, rose up and were pains in the arses of their management. As a result, there’s a plan in place in Dallas to deal with one or more people who present to hospital emergency departments with vague symptoms that could signal a dangerous disease. The plan is multidisciplinary, involves competing healthcare facilities, and takes in city and county emergency workers.
The folks who got angry, who protested, were labeled as disgruntled troublemakers. They were pilloried in the press until it became evident that they had legitimate questions and worries about their jobs. Then, suddenly, their managers started making changes.
I propose this: that one or two people on every floor become pains in management’s arse. They can ask the questions, call out the B.S. answers and lean on the people who lead from afar, in order to improve things for their colleagues.
Look, we’re nurses. We care for people in extremis. We’ve seen more people die than most people have. We are the most trusted profession. We have a reputation for being caring and smart, well-trained and progressive, compassionate and tough.
We need the reputation of being badasses as well. We’ve moved beyond the helpmeet stereotype; most people realize that we don’t just take orders and fawn over physicians anymore. If we could channel our disgruntlement and our frustration to foster change, we would be unstoppable.
More to the point, we could actually get lunch now and then, and maybe bathroom breaks.
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Agatha Lellis