A few months ago I had to make a really tough decision. Probably up there with one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. P.S This is a long one, so please grab a cuppa!
Nursing was my saviour twenty-six years ago. On my first day of training I was a lost, confused, immature, selfish and narrow-minded person. Three years later I was none of those things. I hope. Other than motherhood, it was THE best life lesson I’d ever had.
My cohort was an eclectic bunch. As a small town girl, I wondered how I’d ever find anything in common with the ninety people who sat around me. Some were fresh out of school, some were embarking on second careers, some had experience of the health profession and some did not. As with anything though, you do find your tribe.
On the whole I enjoyed my nurse training, despite their being resistance to the new breed of nurses. You see I was one of the first Project 2000 nurses. Nurses who were taught to question and challenge every aspect of healthcare. We were taught to ask why things were being done a certain way, and not accept the “because it is” answer. We were asked to find a better way. A lot of long-standing staff didn’t like it, Project 2000 nurses were often side lined over the more traditionally trained nurses, we were put in rooms and told to look at educational papers because, after all, that’s the kind of nurses we were. We didn’t like to get our hands dirty, apparently. However over the years some of us proved them wrong. We proved that we could be and were just as good as the more traditionally trained nurses.
Despite some attitudes towards our style of training, 99% of the nurses I came across were kind, compassionate, welcoming and most of all they cared. They cared not only for the patients they were nursing, they cared for each other. When I experienced my very first death, my mentor not only cared for the gentleman who had passed away and his relatives, she cared for me. She sent me off with a cup of tea and quick hug, and told me she’d back to see me. She adeptly ushered the relatives into the family room and provided tea and comfort, whilst making all the arrangements she had too. Then she came back to me, and made sure that I was ok. That I wasn’t too traumatised by the whole thing, and explained what I needed to do as a nurse.
During my second year I had a wobble. I’d had a particularly stressful placement and was unsure if I was good enough to be a nurse. People rallied, my mentors told me I was plenty good enough. My tutors told me that the fact I was worried about not being good enough was a good sign, and the makings of a good nurse. Not one person just shrugged their shoulders at me and said “whatever”. Then in my third year when I my health was not brilliant (I was burning the candle at both ends!) people supported me. Several times my ward sister sent me back to my quarters with a hug and a hospital pudding! My first year qualified and my very first shift in charge, we had a death. Not just any death. A gentleman died who I was particularly close to. I was his nurse, as he always said. It was sudden and I went to pieces. I managed to keep it together long enough to gently usher the relatives into the family room and provide tea, as my mentor had done just a few short years before. As I walked out, the first sob escaped my throat and big fat tears started to stream down my face. Just like that I was surrounded. My colleagues rallied to help, the Ward Sister appeared and took over and she sat me in her office. I wasn’t alone either on the ward or in my profession.
It’s not like that anymore.
Today’s nurses are alone, in so many ways. Hospitals are run on their bare bones, there aren’t so many nurses on the wards these days. So when a nurse has a moment, needs some support, needs help, there just isn’t any. It’s every man for himself. Not because they don’t want to help of course, it’s because they physically can’t. They physically cannot take on the work of a nurse who needs a longer break or 5 minutes to grab a quick drink, because they are already drowning in their own responsibility.
In the years after I qualified I worked on several wards where other nurses worked flexibly because of having children. I never remember anyone moaning about it, or saying “why should I have to work this pattern because she has children?” It was one of those things that you accepted because you might be in that position one day. And yet you hear this all the time now. It was always a bit of an unwritten rule that those who had children had christmas day off, and those who didn’t had New Year’s day off. Again those days are long gone, and I have experienced many nurses in tears over not getting to spend time with their children on Christmas Day or other important days, over the years. Nurses no longer seem to care about each other in the way they once did. Nursing has become a very selfish profession, mainly due to the constraints put in place by the organisations these days.
When I recently re-joined the NHS, I was surprised to discover that I had to wait 6 months before I could request flexible working around my children. I was also informed there was a high possibility that this would be refused and I’d have to wait another 12 months before I could ask again. You only have to read the RCN forum on Facebook, or listen to a group of nurses who are mothers and it’s the same story over and over. The needs of the service come before anything. I do not understand why decisions over working patterns are not made at ground level anymore? Surely a Ward Sister should decide what is best for her staff, not some individual sat in an office a mile away from the ward? In my experience Ward Managers/Sisters have become automatons, just ticking boxes and spouting hospital policy. They care not that you are on your knees with a heavy cold and your baby has had you up all night. They certainly won’t send you home as they once did, they will wring every last bit of energy out of you. Then the real sucker punch is, when you admit defeat and ring in sick you’ll be punished. If you have anymore time that is deemed acceptable, you will receive a warning. As I did after having 2 days off with Slapped Cheek caught from my children.
If you have children and they have the audacity to become ill, or your child care lets you down, tough. You will be expected to ask a complete stranger to care for your child. If you can’t find a complete stranger then expect to have to lose annual leave, so you’d better hope your children don’t get anything too serious and you can get them back into school/childcare the next day. Oh and don’t expect any sympathy from management when these emergencies happen either. I have been told of a stories where people have been suffering with serious illness, such as cancer, and warned about how much sickness leave they can have. If that wasn’t horrific enough, I was also told of a story where someone’s child was knocked over and sustained severe injuries. Whilst staying at home to care for her child, not only did she have to use her annual leave, she also triggered the disciplinary process because of the time she had to take off. Suffice to say she ended up leaving her position. I can’t find the words to express just how disgusting I find this. This is supposed to be a caring profession, and yet it seems to me that the Manager’s of these hospital trusts didn’t quite get the memo!!
I noticed a real shift in some nurses attitudes. When I was training and in my first few jobs, you acknowledged your fellow nurses. You said good morning, you smiled as you passed on the corridor. I got very little sense of this community in my recent experience. I am not talking about the immediate ward/unit setting, I’m talking about walking corridors and the welcome you receive when walking into other departments etc. At times I felt almost invisible, finding myself completely ignored when walking onto another ward.
The long and short of it is that nursing is not the profession it once was. Which I’m sure will come as no surprise to whoever is reading this. Some will argue that it’s better, more advanced, more responsibility, more education and I agree with all of those things. But there have also been massive steps backwards. I am a traditional nurse, I loved nursing because of the people contact. I loved nothing more than sitting on a patient’s bed at the end of the late shift and having a chat. Or having a good chat to a nurse who’d come onto the ward to help out or to borrow some equipment. Those days are long gone. It’s frowned upon now, patients are called clients and must be treated as such. The irony is that when I was training we were not allowed to call patients “hunny” or “sweetheart” it had to be by their chosen name. To take that in itself is a step back. I cannot be a nurse in an environment where pounds mean more than people. I cannot be a nurse in a profession that is supposed to care and doesn’t. I cannot be a nurse where Managers are removed, uncaring and act in the best interests of the policies rather than their staff. I cannot nurse in an environment where I am supposed to sacrifice the health and well-being of not only myself but that of my children. I cannot nurse in an environment that doesn’t respect me. As demonstrated so well by the recent pay arguments between the profession and the government. I cannot nurse in a system where beurocracy is killing the heart and soul of the profession.
I worked hard for my badge and my buckle. The day I put my first dress on as a qualified nurse, and pinned my badge to my lapel and fastened my buckle around my waist was one of the proudest days of my life. Of course we are not even allowed to wear those these days. So after 26 years I have decided to walk away from nursing for the time being. This may become permanent, or after a break I may decide to go back. For now though, I need to respect myself a little.