I’m currently on a three-week break before summer classes start again and enjoying every minute. Well, that is, every minute I’m not studying. Even though I’m off of school technically, I’m still working like many NP students. I have a research job that is a year around commitment, I write/blog, and I’m getting ready to begin a new ICU job which I’m pretty nervous about starting (I’ve been off over five months since I injured my knee.) Also, during finals week, our instructor sent out the readings and syllabus for our summer courses, further stressing me. But, honestly, this is nothing new for an NP student or anyone who works in the medical arena. It’s downright hardcore.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because on three separate occasions this week I have pondered why I put myself through hell for this career. I rarely sleep enough, struggle to eat healthy, and regarding dating or maintaining a relationship, most men do not understand the devotion and time commitments required. Therefore, I’m really not able date or go out without feeling guilty for not working/studying. However, I know this isn’t just me; it’s most of my counterparts and medical students too.
So, my week began with a guy, who presumably wanted to date me, confronting me about my consistent exhaustion. What he didn’t know is that I have actually significantly decreased my workload since injuring my knee, but he specifically said, “Why would you even continue nursing? Your job clearly affects your health, I don’t understand why you would continue working like you do” (this relationship obviously won’t be working out).
Well, first of all thanks for your concern. I didn’t really know how to respond to this statement, so I just said, “I do it because I love it and I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t found nursing. So, I know it will be worth it.” But, I did think, why does it have to be so hard? Why do the 12-hour shifts have to nearly kill me? Why do I have to work three different jobs and go to grad school? PA students don’t work and go to school and neither do med students, lawyers, PsyD students, physical therapists etc. I get decent grades, but know I could get better grades if I had more time. But, once again, this isn’t just me, it’s 75% of my classmates and honestly, many of them work more than I do.
Then, the next day, a friend texted me an article citing a study stating that nurses who go to church live longer. Well, thanks for your concern again and this is very nice, but my first thought was, “Anyone in my position is probably working on Sunday, so what nurses were included in this study?” Many people, who work in healthcare, particularly nurses, fight to be healthy. Due to the rotating shifts, hard physical/emotional work, and high stress, it would be wonderful to take two hours on a Sunday morning to go to church or have spiritual moment, but many times that’s just not possible. So, once again, I began thinking, why is this my normal?
Finally, a chronic one-upper I know was bagging on her relative, who happened to be a physician. The physician once told the one-upper that she “…just didn’t understand the commitment of being a doctor.” This really infuriated the one-upper because she is a very hard working woman, however, she does have an inability to empathize. So, while listening to the one upper complain, I began to think again. I do believe there is a new level of stress involved when dealing with a human life. Making medical decisions is insanely complicated and YOU are responsible for life and death or any mistake. Not only that, we work in hospitals that patients and family members believe should be the equivalent of a Hilton. They complain about the food, towels, sheets, noise, and the fact that you have Coke and not Pepsi. If they complain about these minuscule details, they surely will complain about any medical mistake. Doctors in particular, but nurses as well, are at risk of being sued for literally everything. So, I’m sorry one-upper, I don’t believe you truly understand the commitment of a physician or a nurse. The stakes are off the charts.
So as I processed all of these events, a few closing thoughts came to mind. Maybe nurses shouldn’t be working so hard. Maybe we shouldn’t be working and going to school. Maybe we should be working 8-hour shifts instead of 12 hours shifts; research indicates 8-hour shifts are safer for patients anyway. Research also indicates that lower nurse/patient ratios are safer as well. Thus, ICU nurses should always be 1:1 or 2:1, intermediate care nurses 1:2, and floor nurses 1:3. Could you imagine this life? Maybe we wouldn’t feel like dying/crying when we went home at night, maybe our legs, backs, and heads wouldn’t be throbbing after every shift, maybe we wouldn’t hide in the bathroom for a five-minute break to regain our sanity. Maybe we would be able to attend church on Sundays or use it for a family day if we didn’t work every weekend, just maybe. Maybe men who try to date me wouldn’t question my choice of becoming an ICU nurse and would respect me for doing what I love so much. Maybe I wouldn’t have a love-hate relationship with my career and a caffeine addiction. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so exhausted/unhealthy all the time. Maybe if nurses were happier patient care would be better. Maybe I will advocate for these changes beginning with this post. Just maybe.