This Is What Nurse Power Looks Like

Kelley Johnson may have taken third place in the Miss America contest but she will always be #1 with the nurses.

The comments made earlier this week on the View about the Miss America contestant, Kelley Johnson, continue to spur nurses to remark in social media. The hashtags #NursesUnite , #JustANurse and the Facebook page  #NurssesShareYourStethescopes are swarming with spirit and support for nurse power.

As The Nurses’ Nurse, I have spent years promoting the power of nurses in society. I am so grateful to Kelley Johnson who competed in the talent section of the Miss America Contest as a nurse. She recited a story based on the poem, Just A Nurse.  Her short speech, about being a nurse who gave dignity back to a man with Alzheimer’s disease was great.

Rather than appearing as just another female entertainer in a flowing gown and a push-up bra, Kelley dressed in scrubs and a stethoscope, to prove that the beauty of a woman should be judged from the inside out.

It took over 500 pages of my book, Labor Pains, to say what Kelley said in less than three minutes. Patients don’t cry out for the doctor to save them, they call for the nurse. It takes all the arts and sciences together at the bedside to give compassionate care. If that’s not a special talent I don’t know what is.

NursesUnited
A Hospital without Nurses is like a World without Water

It is sad that the View, which should portray powerful women, presented themselves as a group of hens pecking at the integrity of a nurse for a few cackles. This type of catty behavior is at the  core of what makes it so hard for nurses to break out of the social stereotyping that has portrayed us as sex objects who are incapable of being both feminine and smart.

Kelley Johnson may have taken third place in the Miss America contest but she will always be #1 with the nurses. Never underestimate the power of a nurse.

Labor Day: Creating a Healthy Work Culture  

When I think of Labor Day I remember the working class heroes who have built our society and have won so many of the rights we enjoy: paid holidays, overtime compensation, child labor laws and the ability to come together as a voice for fairness.

Today I read that President Obama passed a measure for seven paid sick days for federal employees.

Healthcare Starts with Self-care
Healthcare Starts with Self-care

This shows there is still much work to be done to ensure fair practice that protect workers from harm. It seems ludicrous for someone to go to work sick because they can’t afford to take a day off thereby, infecting everyone else at their job.

What about nurses? I know many, myself included,  who work or have worked when they were sick because there weren’t enough co-workers to cover the shift.

Everywhere I look, hospitals aren’t hiring  enough nurses. Hospitals depend on nurses to work overtime to cover unfilled nursing positions because , ironically, it’s too expensive to pay for employee healthcare benefits.

Nurses work hard and need time off to recover from the demands of our job. It has become the nurses code of honor to work extra shifts to provide respite for each other. Yet, this unspoken rule spreads the work pool too thin to cover sick leave, especially for minor ailments like colds.  So it has become prevalent for bedside nurses to work even while sick .

Managers try to deter this behavior by scheduling nurses weeks in advance to prepare for slim weekend and holiday coverage. Yet, because a hospital census can be so unpredictable, there are always circumstances where shifts need to be rearranged to balance the experienced nurses with new nurses to provide mentorship and optimal care for the patients. No one knows better than a nurse that short staffing puts patients in jeopardy making it a real guilt trip to call in sick.

This holiday, I am taking a moment to recognize  the nurses’ responsibility to ensure fair work practices that protect others from unnecessary exposure to sick workers. We didn’t cause this nursing shortage, we didn’t create the uncertainty of situations that demand we adjust our schedules, but we can cure this dilemma.

Nurses can change the unrealistic expectations we put upon ourselves and our profession by sharing the awareness that we must advocate for our own health first. While it seems a brave and admirable sacrifice to work while mildly ill we are exposing these germs to other people’s immune systems  that may cause a life threatening situation.

Sure, we can pass more laws to ensure worker and public safety but it’s faster and cheaper to create a healthy work culture. To start, I must walk my talk and present myself as fit to do a good job. Instead of manipulating a co-workers by demanding that they defend a sick call, I have started creating a culture that protects and encourages nurses to be strong and healthy by saying, “I hope you feel better.”

Good Friday

As a nurse I’ve had to follow a higher law. Sometimes I had to do what was right instead of what was easy. There were times that I had to stand up to ridicule and berating from my supervisor because I disagreed with the staffing of our department.  I can’t help but wonder how it might be, if more nurses took a Garden in Gethsemane moment and surrendered to a crown of thrones rather than compromise safe patient care.

What Nurses Want and Need for Christmas

Don't Pay the Price of Silence or Brutality
Don’t Pay the Price of Silence or Brutality

Whether or not you agree with Sony’s recent reactions to North Korea’s threats, freedom of speech is a human right that many Americans have sacrificed their lives for.

Granted, I don’t have to like what other people say about a subject but I have the right to speak my opinion. After all, I don’t make up true north.

My favorite flavor is chocolate. I didn’t make that up. I don’t like what happened in the Sony hacking incident but I don’t like the fact that Sony stirred a hornet’s nest with Kim Jong-un either. Just because I like chocolate, doesn’t mean I should beat you over the head with it.

What does this have to do with what nurses want for Christmas?  It has to do with nurses being able to voice our true north without fear of losing our jobs. It has to do with being able to communicate with integrity so people don’t have to suffer.

Saying what I mean and meaning what I say doesn’t have to be said or done in a mean spirited way. When there aren’t enough nurses to cover tough situations we shouldn’t have to resort to shaming or bullying one another just because it’s been done that way in the past.

Christmas can be a very short-staffed time of year. I get it that nurses have families too and want time off. But there are plenty of nurses who want to work, yet staffing formulas don’t always reflect the true north of what patients need for optimal care.

Too bad nursing productivity and performance are based on customer satisfaction and not so much the basis of healthy outcomes like educating patients on getting and staying well. Making sure a patient’s dinner isn’t cold is important, but what makes nursing meaningful is providing lasting safety and support.

Yet patient satisfaction surveys, used to fulfill healthcare quotas, focus on comfort and costs rather than quality measures driven by lowering illness through intervention and education.

Too often, nurses are too busy or too tired to balk about the measuring of their pillow fluffing.  Working to save and improve the quality of life should be more important than encouraging patients to circle happy faces for food temperatures and mood lighting.

The political pressure for nurses to play these corporate games of following the money, lest we fear losing our job, has watered down our effectiveness as soldiers against suffering and disease.

Nurses need to learn to be assertive and provide scientific rationales for better hospital management to stop the bullying behaviors and focus on best medical practices.

After all, if Florence Nightingale had bashed her administrators in the beginning for doing such a lousy job, or worse yet if she had kept her mouth shut, the spirit of modern day nursing wouldn’t exist.

Instead, Flo became the voice for change by modeling effective communication that demanded respect. I know we can keep her flame burning bright to direct us to the true north for healthcare justice.

May we all be blessed with the courage and strength to be that voice. Happy Holidays.

How the Spirit of MLK Guides Nursing Practice

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 I don’t know about you but I cry every time I hear or read Martin Luther King Jr’s, I have a Dream Speech. His words in 1963 still resonate with passion of a world of equality and connectedness where every nurse goes whenever they enter their workplace to care for the sick and needy.

The Caduceus, a more sophisticated sampling of the red cross, has long been a symbol used in nursing, which marks the spot where the sick and injured can be treated without fear of attack. It is the universal sign of neutrality where the most vulnerable have refuge from the fiercest battle lines of hate. Right?

 Not anymore. Sadly, the news is full of stories where nurses are being attacked by angry patients in hospitals, children are being gunned down in schools by the mentally ill and the sick of our richest nation are being relegated to half measures because of lack of funds.

Nurses intuitively know that access to healthcare is the universal level for creating  equality. Let’s face it, you can have all the money and prestige in the world but if you don’t have your health you can’t enjoy it. If you want to build a utopia you have to start with good health. Disease doesn’t care about the color of your skin or the size of your bank account.

Think about it: In medicine a nurse honors the place in you that makes you whole. A nurse upholds that universal world where you are loved as only one of God’s kids can be loved- that place of beauty that place of truth, that place of light. What an honor to share this sacred knowledge with MLK- the place where all hearts beat as one, the place where each one of us has a special purpose in this world.

King’s gifts of commitment to civil rights and non-violent social change have always been used as guidelines for nursing practice. More than ever, our success must rely on MLK’s dream in order to change this healthcare system that’s dying to get better. How simple to apply his vision of unity and courage to our nursing policy and procedures. Among the standards you might address to your healthcare agencies: Do all our neighbors have access to comprehensive healthcare, including mental health? Are the elderly as nourished as they should be? Are the children physically fit and destined for healthy adult lifestyles? These are just a few possible places to continue our nurses’ crusade for healthcare justice.

 It’s time to accommodate King’s Dream, at least on the level of healthcare, and make medical accessibility a reality.  Commit to the Nurses’ Nurse Crusade the dream of quality affordable healthcare for all.  Forward this to a friend, get others to sign up for a subscription to the Nurses’ Nurse Blog and leave your comments to build a strong nursing opinion that becomes the united voice of reason.

 

Next up: the latest update on VCHCA negotiations- the work toward Nursing Professional Recognition

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