Nurses want to celebrate Nurses Week because they love their profession. They’re also marching on Washington, D.C. because they’re suffering.
Nurses’ Week 2022 will be like no other because this year our hearts must be large enough to hold both the sweetness and the sorrow. To do this will take an enormous amount of courage.
The word “courage” means “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” So, let me try to capture as much of the story as I can because to ignore or deny any part of our reality would be a great disservice. In her Caritas 5, Jean Watson asks that we allow for the expression of both the positive and negative.
As many of you know, I could tell stories all day long of how nurses intervened and cared for their patients in poignant and creative ways that demonstrated profound compassion, skill, and knowledge. I love this profession and simply being with my fellow nurses, whom I deeply respect. I love that nursing offers me the opportunity to apply my intelligence and work so closely with humanity that my interactions with patients often feel sacred. To me the best way to celebrate Nurses Week is always to tell your family, friends, and communities at least one of these stories. The public still doesn’t understand that healing happens in our hands.
But my joy for nursing has been tempered by another reality. This week an emergency department nurse died by suicide at work in San Francisco where 5,000 nurses are on strike to fight for safer working conditions, safe staffing, and mental health services. They’re overworked and overwhelmed because they feel like factory widgets in leaned profitable hospitals where violence has escalated and 25% of nurses have reported being physically assaulted. Then I got a text from two nurses in a North Carolina emergency department who were caring for 40 patients. Then another from two brand new nurses caring for six intensive care unit patients by themselves, feeling recklessly abandoned. Add to this a nurse who’s being sentenced for criminally negligent homicide for making a mistake. Enough is enough!
And so, we are marching on Washington, D.C.—but hardly in solidarity. On social media nurse bloggers attack with poisonous slander, shaming, and gossip, often using racism as a tool because they don’t know what else to hit each other with. This is classic oppression. Without power, a group unconsciously starts infighting and attacking each other because they have forgotten (or have never known) how worthy and wonderful they each are after being overpowered for decades. But we can have power if we are dauntless. Here’s what we can do:
- Realize that the root of our suffering is the fact that healthcare is a big business and profits are more important than, well, anything…your mental health, staffing, healthy communities, etc.
- Celebrate Nurses Week 2022 by calling your legislators, telling your story, and supporting legislation to prevent violence and promote safe staffing.
- Look tenderly at your coworker and tell them how much you appreciate them. Be specific and make eye contact to ensure the compliment is received. Look out for each other.
- Don’t engage in social media gossip, blaming, or scapegoating. It’s beneath this noble profession. The public won’t value us until we value ourselves.
Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.
All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses. Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners. She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.
Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.