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Nurses do more than toileting, showering and pill-popping by Belinda Clough - Articles - Nurses Arena Forum

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Nurses do more than toileting, showering and pill-popping by Belinda Clough by Idowu Olabode : May 11, 2017, 12:32:28 PM
"But nurses, on the whole, are strong, intelligent individuals, with the toughest skins but softest hearts. Friday is International Nurses Day. It's time to replace apathy with appreciation, awareness and respect."

Before I retrained as a registered nurse, I had an ambiguous job title that required a 30-second explanation at best, enough to kill most conversations. Once I started working as a nurse, I anticipated a new-found simplicity to these conversations. Now, when I tell people what I do, they smile, offer encouragement or tell me about their personal encounters with nurses. However, I'm rarely welcomed with the interest that follows when many of my friends explain their profession. And occasionally, I receive responses tinged with boredom, or even almost visible disgust.

This surprises me because, in my opinion, nursing is the most fascinating job in the world. I'll spout endless facts and anecdotes at the slightest provocation – about my specific specialty, recent innovations in treatment, the rapid deterioration of a patient our team managed recently, the hilarious incident involving a mishap with a catheter, and the diverse range of fascinating people who come through my ward, each fighting their own unique battle

Nurses have the privilege of carrying people through what is usually one of the worst times of their life.
We have the essential job of ensuring their safety during that time, detecting and acting upon any deterioration, assisting them in returning to activities of daily living, and providing emotional support to them and their families and carers. We have the strength to deal with extreme trauma, abuse and death.

Yet the apathy I experience in some conversations persists towards the nursing profession as a whole, and I don't doubt it is responsible for the difficulty nurses face in having their voices heard – in their work environments, and as a lobby group. It is the reason we continue to face long, union-led battles, such as the fights for improved nurse-to-patient ratios, remote area nurse safety, and an increase in wages. How else could such a huge workforce, with one of the strongest unions, have such a quiet voice?

I believe nurses partly lose public respect and value due to the age-old perception that we simply perform basic, menial tasks – toileting, showering, dressing, popping a few pills occasionally. It seems this misconception has not been thoroughly myth-busted, yet would be easily with an in-depth conversation with any nurse. I've had shifts where I've hardly attended to any of these duties, and instead have been preparing complex intravenous medications, dressing wounds, performing ECGs, meticulously calculating a patient's fluid balance, or giving blood transfusions.

However, in nursing positions where these "menial" activities may still dominate, there is still much more than meets the eye. While we shower a patient a thorough assessment of their skin integrity, mobility and psychological status is being conducted; while we administer medications, a thorough knowledge base underpins each pill we pop – we may withhold an anti-hypertensive if the patient's blood pressure has plummeted, or delay their diabetes medication if their blood sugar is sitting low ‒ and the list could go on.

Digging deeper though, we must ask what exactly is it about these "menial" nursing tasks that provokes apathy, disrespect or even disgust? Almost every single one of us will need a nurse to intervene for us in this manner at some point in our life, yet we dismiss this role so readily.

One aspect is that our society values roles which warrant a high level of theoretical expertise, over roles involving practical expertise or simply admirable qualities.This is reflected in our salaries, at the very least.Although nurses now complete a university degree and often extensive extra training, to many we don't qualify as experts in a field.

Additionally, we can't ignore the significance of the fact these roles, as well as other "caring" professions, have traditionally been associated with female labour, in and out of the home. Indeed, the nursing field remains female dominated, with men comprising only 13 per cent of Australian nurses in 2016. Would nurses have a louder voice and a higher salary if it was a male-dominated profession? We cannot deny the answer is affirmative.

Let's also consider how apathy towards nurses relates to the longevity of the profession. Nursing has, after all, been around essentially as long as humans have, and despite monumental advances in the nursing environment, technology and workforce, many of its basic principles have not significantly changed over time. The general public feel they know what nurses do, meaning the profession may be seen as somewhat stagnant. But should the permanence and the necessity of the profession decrease its value? Surely the opposite should be the case.

Of course, nurses are not perfect and often deserve criticism along with praise. As with any job, we make mistakes, our patience expires, and we always have more to learn. Many reading this may be inwardly protesting due to an unpleasant or even traumatising encounter with an under-trained, overworked, or simply overwhelmed nurse.

But nurses, on the whole, are strong, intelligent individuals, with the toughest skins but softest hearts.
On a wider scale, nurses are an indispensable part of the Australian community, essentially responsible for the healthcare of regional and rural Australia, and an essential part of health promotion, illness prevention, education and research across the nation.

Friday is International Nurses Day. It's time to replace apathy with appreciation, awareness and respect.

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