Honoring by action.
As of August, the pandemic has taken more than 1,154 nurses’ lives. It has also taken the energy, health and souls of nurses whose pleas for change seem to echo in a vast void as they work short staffed day after day. This is the lived reality of frontline nurses who realize that the American Health Care System has been resting on the backs of nurses for decades.
Administrators, whose hands are tied by the system, have not responded. From our government and the public there is silence. Linda Aiken’s excellent suggestions in her NYT Op Ed were the last words we shouted into the abyss.
“What will it take for our profession to be heard and supported?” I asked a prestigious national nurse leader. I was shocked, and didn’t like her answer at all.
“Nothing will change for Nursing until nurses leave. Only then will Americans realize the value of nurses when they don’t have any to care for them.”
Really? Does it really have to get that bad?
Maybe she is right? Because nurses are leaving.
I used to think it was us… that we functioned like an oppressed group because we were fractured into hundreds of nursing organizations always fighting each other. Now I see the bigger challenges:
1) an image problem because the general public does not fully grasp that nurses save lives using high-level skills, and
2) a system that is designed to profit from disease while preventing us from working to our full scope of practice.
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Perhaps there is more that we can do than to just remember the 1,154 nurses who have given their lives to our country. Last week, Dr. Ernest Grant, President of the ANA, sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services requesting help. What can you do?
- Be true to yourself – don’t make a competition out of staying in nursing trying to hold up the walls of a failing structure that has enabled an extremely sick nation. We have enough martyrs already. Take care of your own precious health and each other.
- Contribute today what you can afford to your state nursing’s Political Action Committee.
- Realize that we can never achieve our true potential in a system that is designed to produce enormous profits from disease.
- Come together today on your unit by stopping all cliques and gossip. Role model the professionalism and teamwork that we could potentially have as a nation of 4 million nurses.
- Contact your representatives using this link: and save the number! Tell your story, speak your truth, and demand action. Tell your representatives:
- Nursing must be a separate billing charge. Stop including us with room and board.
- If a nurse is smart enough to save your life with a crash cart, then I am absolutely certain that they know how to safely staff the floor.
- Require hospitals to report staffing to Medicare Hospital Compare as Professor Aiken suggested. (Won’t happen if you don’t call.)
- A nurse is a nurse – doesn’t vary between states but keeps us divided so tell your Governor not to leave the emergency mandate in place regarding licensure.
- Advocate for funding. (What if we put a 3% Nursing Tax on Big Pharma and used that money to immediately double the salaries of nursing faculty?)
I don’t agree that it must get to the point where we all leave. As nurses choose one of the above interventions, we create a safety net that helps each other and the patients we care about so dearly. Nothing can honor our fallen nurses more than coming together to advocate for each other and our profession.
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’.