I got to thinking the other day that an interesting insight that I could gain from people my age, is what life is like in their field of study. Is it what they predicted it would be? Are there parts of the job that you would have never expected? What does it actually take to hold a job in a certain field?
A luxury I have with this newsletter is being able to report factually, while also respecting the privacy of the individuals—a luxury one rarely has in newsroom journalism because it is an AP-style error to not include someone’s last name. In other words, unpublishable.
I want to use this segment as a way to educate ourselves on different fields, share stories or thoughts that we can’t normally share with the public and, honestly, just be a little nosy about different careers.
A look inside the young nurse’s life:
I’m talking with my friend Marie and explaining my idea to her. She is energetic about it, hypes the thought up and then, I tell her I want to interview her and she shuts down.
“Oh girly,” she said. “I might be better at answering questions if I had more time to think about them and actually respond.”
I laughed, knowing I was going to get the interview regardless; just by having a normal conversation with her—she is incredible.
“You know, most people will tell you they chose nursing because they wanted to care for others, they want to be that shoulder to cry on. And, that’s a rewarding aspect, sure. But that isn’t why I went into nursing,” she said.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the blood and the gore inside a human,” she said, noting that her favorite holiday is, and forever will be, Halloween. “Nursing is the most applicable job.”
Her infatuation with the human body, how it works, why we die and what happens when we do, is what led her to the field.
Marie finished nursing school and took her first, full-time job in 2019 as a bedside nurse on a surgical trauma unit, working nightshift—clocking in at 6:15 p.m. and leaving the next morning at 7:08 a.m. (the weird times are because of the way their “breaks” and lunch work into the schedule).
Ironically enough, based on her fascination with the “gory stuff,” she has never seen anyone die in her unit, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I keep my patients alive! The minute I see someone die, I’m asking myself what I did wrong,” she said.
The thing that is incredible about Marie is that she is the epitome of a caregiver. So much so that when I had to get a colonoscopy (yes, at the age of 23), she was the only person near me that I felt comfortable enough picking me up after the procedure. Sure, she likes Halloween and she likes the blood—but, she is a “nurse-nurse” at heart--if you know what I mean.
Since starting her career in nursing, it has been an ever-changing, ever-learning field, she said; noting that each day was always something new because each patient is individual in the care they require and receive.
“The things we learned in nursing school obviously prepared us as best as it could for what it’s like on the floor,” she said. “But there is nothing comparable to actually being on the clock. You know that going into it, though.”
What young nurses don’t know going into the field, or at least didn’t before 2020, was how to deal with the direct impact of a global pandemic.
I am sure each of you are just as sick of hearing about the coronavirus as I am. We know the symptoms, we experienced the shutdown, we learned how to do ~everything~ from our laptops. It sucked.
The same applied to the nurses, only, there is probably no end in sight, Marie explained. The pandemic rocked the nursing world—sending older nurses into earlier retirement, convincing younger nurses this was not the job for them, and leaving the rest of the nurses to tackle the surge in patients. ,
Staffing shortages are happening everywhere—fast food, grocery stores, airlines, shopping centers and, especially, the medical field.
“In a way it is a blessing and a curse that I was a young nurse when Covid hit. I already knew nothing, so it wasn’t as much of a shock to me as the nurses with more experience,” Marie said. “But, on the other side of things, we’re not receiving the compensation we deserve for carrying the hospital on our backs.”
She explained that before Covid, there was typically a 4:1 patient to nurse ratio. This means that each nurse was assigned four patients to care for, during their 12-hour shift. Since the pandemic, however, that ratio has jumped to 7:1.
She gets to work earlier now to “study” her patients and understand what care they are going to need. She leaves work over an hour later because she does not have enough time to ‘chart,’ or document patient info, during normal hours like she used to.
And, the kicker? She is rarely taking her breaks or stopping for lunch—there isn’t time.
Obviously, the lack of nurses and the influx of patients is causing a huge imbalance in hospitals all over the country. A lot of nurses left their hospitals for travel nursing, she explained, because it pays significantly more, and the travel aspect is appealing to a lot of single nurses. But it leaves the people who cannot travel and earn those wages left to carry the burden of ailing communities.
Marie is in the process of earning her Master’s Degree in Nursing Leadership and Management. She cannot leave for travel nursing because of where her school program is located. Once she earns her degree, she will be qualified to be a manager—overseeing her own unit of nurses. The administration aspect of hospitals is what, she believes, needs to change.
“We [bedside nurses] can’t really ‘protest’ because there are still patients that need care,” she said. “But we have, collectively, all decided to start writing in our clock book that we did not take a break or did not take lunch so that it’s documented and undeniable that we are tired.”
She explained that simple gestures from hospital management such as “I see how hard you are working and I appreciate it,” would make a world of difference.
“The fact of the matter is that something has to give,” she said. “We either need more staffing, or we need more compensation for the work we are doing and the hours we are putting in.”
She broke down the math after a shift one day. For one, 12-hour shift with seven patients to care for, and assuming she takes her proper breaks and lunch, she is making $3.40 per patient, per hour.
“I am the shoulder you cry on. I am wiping your ass. I am keeping you alive. And apparently, that isn’t even worth a $5 bill,” she said.
Let’s let that sink in.
Marie, loving and caring despite her frustrations, was very adamant in noting that this is not one specific hospital in one specific state. It is everywhere. Nurses are tired, nurses are emotionally drained, nurses are hungry, nurses are quitting, but the patients, the sicknesses, the dying—it won’t ever stop.
She believes, from her fresh viewpoint in the field, that starting from the top will trickle down to the bottom. Hence, her pursuit of her Master’s Degree in that study. It seems obvious, to me at least, that she sees the issue and, in her true nurse’s heart of hearts, knows that she may stand a chance at fixing the system.
What do you think?
Let me know in the comments, or you can respond directly to this email! Forward and share this article to a nurse you are proud of today!