Dear Ann Landers, I am writing in response to your column from nurses who are fed up. It is sad, but not surprising, that nurses are so unhappy and dissatisfied. For decades, nursing has been devalued because of outdated attitudes and prevailing myths. Although nurses care for the most vulnerable and the sickest members of our society, they must continuously fight for the basic tools to do their job: authority, recognition and respect. The financial rewards aren't all that great, either.
Most nurses begin their careers passionate about nursing. They are thrilled with the opportunity to make a significant difference in people's lives. Nurses care for patients when they are most vulnerable. They deal with major life events: birth and death. They are the backbone of the health-care system, outnumbering physicians four to one. The nurse is there to calm the fears of a middle-aged man the night before his bypass surgery; to prevent bedsores in a terminally ill patient; to help a young man with AIDS deal with the rejection of his family; to teach a mother confined to a wheelchair how to care for her children. Yet nurses are expected to accept working conditions that are often intolerable: long working hours, casual rather than permanent positions and unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios. Is it any wonder dissatisfaction and frustration are so widespread?
The future looks grim. We are facing a severe shortage of nurses that threatens to undermine the health-care system. We need to change working conditions to retain those nurses who are currently in the system and attract the brightest and best. And we had better hurry before it's too late. -- L.G.N., Ph.D., Montreal, Quebec
Dear Montreal, Your signature surprised me. I didn't realize the nursing crisis was as bad in Canada as it is in the United States. I've had a ton of letters with a litany of complaints. The profession is clearly in a state of jeopardy. And now, I would like some suggestions on how to fix it.