I was squashed in, shoulder to shoulder at the lunchroom feeding trough, when a recently graduated Enrolled Nurse announced with excitement. “I got into University!”
“To study what?” She seemed surprised that we were asking- “Nursing”
There wasn’t a fantastic response to her news. Not like the day when one of our radiographers told us she was accepted into university, to study a bachelor of arts majoring in ceramics. Now that news generated some enthusiasm. I was jealous. Just imagine… studying for the love of learning – not motivated by the need to study, so as to gain paid employment at the end. What a treat!
Sure we congratulated the Enrolled Nurse, but I felt it was tokenistic. It was like we as a profession, could not understand why someone would want to join us at the coal face of health care. I asked myself the question… why did I even sign up?
I come from a short line of nurses. My Mother is a Registered Nurse, and is still nursing 42 years on, her four sisters are nurses also. I never dreamt of nursing, in fact quite the opposite…. I was adamant that I was never going to be a nurse. This strong conviction was based on the impact that nursing has on the family of nurses.
Nursing has changed over the years, as you would expect, some would argue that not all change has been good, but it hasn’t been all that bad either. New rostering has provided more flexibility for nurses then when I was little. My mum use to be on a fixed roster, locked into the same days off for months at a time.
I felt that I somehow, missed out because my Mum’s shifts clashed without any consideration, into canteen rosters, sports carnivals and being able to help in the classroom. Shift work puts restrictions on your life, nurses enter the profession knowing the impact it will have on their social lives but maybe not on their children.
It was for that reason alone, I was never ever going to become a nurse. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of a roster…. NO nursing for me. So it came as a massive surprise that I eventually found myself following in the footsteps of my mother. How did it happen?
At the end of year 12 I didn’t want to sign up for any old degree at university. How did I know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life? (I am 40 I still look at the career section in the newspaper). It was an outrageous question then, as it still is today. With no substantive answer- I left Australia and lived in Germany as an exchange student.
What did I sort out while I was away in those 12 months? Not much. All I had was two very, very, itchy feet. And no answers to that pressurising big question that at aged 18, I was supposed to know…. What was I going to do with the rest of my life???
I purchased a 6 month Greyhound unlimited bus ticket, a Macpac backpack (which I still use) and a compact sleeping bag. It was on this adventure around my home country that the absolute beauty and diversity of Australia was unveiled, also it was on this jaunt that I heard some very funny tales from some life-loving, fun-seeking, generous-of-self, Irish and English nurses. The question was answered, it was no longer lingering around me, like the smell of a forgotten basket of wet washing.
I choose nursing or perhaps it chose me.
So why didn’t enthusiasm exude in the lunch room that day? Why are nursing students welcomed into the workplace with… “Why would you want to do nursing?” Is it because we have forgotten what made us decide to do nursing all those years ago?
What has changed us?
I love my job. However, there was a time when I didn’t. Nursing full-time is relentless, and I only worked 40hrs a week for a blink in my career. But in those years before I went part-time, it was hard, it was challenging and it was very stressful. Emotionally draining and physically exhausting.
It seems when I am at BBQ’s people say to me “There is no way I could do your job”
“Oh yeah, why’s that?” I ask, already knowing the answer… “I couldn’t wipe bottoms”
My mind is silently raging!! Yeah thanks- you’re right that is all I do for an 8 hour shift- You ignorant…. Nursing is not about wiping people’s bottoms, although sometimes it is. But our profession is not defined by that one task.
The role of the nurse is so much more, the effect nursing has on us personally is hard to quantify. I have patients who for years I can’t forget. Patients are people, caring for them is demanding, and at times a privilege.
Job satisfaction for me is interrupted and hindered by the pen pushers, who push us in a system that insists, we do more with less. They too, are being pushed. We are losing our personal touch. It can be that soft touch the simplest of gestures, given at the right time, which can have the biggest impact.
Emergency nurses are under the pump by a large part of the community in desperate need of care. Education being one of their biggest issues, their level of health literacy has them skirting along the edges just surviving.
Ward nurses get hammered. Their workload is relentless, the patients in hospitals these days are more complicated, with multiple disease processes competing with each other like siblings wanting sole attention of a parent.
There are less staff on the floor, with questionable skill mixes. The major emphasis is on completing computer screens with our backs to our patients. It was hard to document with paper and pen but I could at least face my patient.
Maybe we don’t understand why anyone would want to put themselves through the physical and emotional ringer voluntarily. Perhaps we have lost our idealism or, we feel defeated and deflated from the bureaucracy that governs us?