Nurses, especially those from the southern state of Kerala are much sought-after in other Indian states and abroad, where they are employed in large numbers. Their efficiency and qualities like knowledge, dedication, discipline, empathy and sensitivity make them worthy successors of Florence Nightingale. Resultantly, they are known by numerous superlative synonyms that speak highly of their quality viz; ‘angels in white’, ‘smiling angels’, ‘Goddesses in white’, etc.
But, when ‘International Nurses Day’ was observed on 12 May 2020, on the birth anniversary of ‘the lady with the lamp’, one really need to introspect if these ‘smiling angels’ are really smiling behind their masks, which have recently been made mandatory as the Corona Virus persists with its stranglehold on the world. This pandemic, which has thus far infected 62,939 and killed 2109, and infected 4,101,772 and killed 280 443 in India and globally respectively has drawn the best out of nurses. They continue to toil shoulder-to-shoulder with a large gamut of healthcare personnel, as they’ve always done in the past during numerous wars, epidemics and disasters, both natural and manmade.
The International Council of Nurses had adopted ‘Nursing the world to Health’, as the theme for International Nurses day of 2020.
But, in India, the theme needs to be reframed as ‘Nursing Nursing to its once famed quality’, simply because, nursing facilitated by ‘smiling angels in white’, who tend to the suffering and the sick, despite many hurdles and daunting odds seem to have lost the sheen it once was famous for.
What are these odds?
- Their abysmal working conditions are incongruent to the responsibilities they’re called to shoulder. Their responsibility is weighty. It is nurses who carry out orders prescribed by doctors. They are often the first point of contact of patients arriving in hospitals.
- Hospital managements, to ‘cut costs’ refuse to replace nurses who leave work, having those left behind put in extra hours of work, often stretching them.
- Their work culture and responsibilities have seen a sea-change lately. These days hospitals vie for various accreditations merely to embellish their hoardings to attract health tourists. As part of accreditation norms, demand on nurses to document has increased many folds. They are, as part of ‘documentation’, required to ‘treat’ patient files much more than treatment of patients. Precious time they are supposed to spend by patients’ bed side is spent on filling up irrelevant registers and outlandish forms which really do not add to quality of patient care. Some hospitals force nurses to work in place of ward secretaries to maintain medical and stock inventories, and keep tab on them.
- Despite these new demands, they are paid a pittance. The unfortunate turn of events that had these ‘angels in white’ take to the streets of Kerala demanding reasonable emoluments not long ago are indelibly etched to memory.
- It is common to find nurses in work places being treated as doormats. They are often shouted at by doctors, who bark orders and ‘reprimand’ them during rounds, in front of patients they are to care for. This is something which nurses in other countries, especially those in the West do not take lying down.
- Their superiors like Nursing Superintendents and Supervisors, who are supposed to stand up for their cause, more often than naught turn them down by adopting stances and supporting policies much against their welfare to win favor of hospital managements.
- Hospital managements confiscate their certificates and have them sign unfavorable clauses and terms and conditions that run incongruent to their welfare and interests on dotted lines. This makes them a captive workforce, which is frustrated, underpaid, overworked, and yet having to shoulder great responsibility to deliver healthcare with aplomb, dignity and respectability.
- Today’s nurses, unlike those of yesteryears don the white coat, goaded by parental and family pressure. Families and parents eying fat paychecks drawn by nurses abroad, make ‘geese that lay golden eggs’ out of them, often against their free will. Parents refuse to think twice before sending their children who’re qualified nurses to war-torn places like Iraq and Yemen, and places torn by political turmoil like Libya, and terrorist-infested places like Syria. Home governments like India having had to rescue them from such dangerous places have even been made into movies
- Nurses employed abroad, drawing fat emoluments are much sought after commodity in the ‘marriage market’. They’re married off and forced to start a family, much before they actually dig themselves into their profession and settle down, adding to their stress.
- The families’ only priority seems to be their wards drawing fat pay cheques, even at the expense of safety to their lives.
- Responsibility to repay loans which families avail from banks for their outrageously expensive nursing ‘courses’ offered by private ‘nursing colleges’ fall on the shoulders of already-burdened shoulders of young nursing graduates.
- A large number of nurses graduate from ‘nursing colleges’ in the private sector that offer courses of dubious standards. Admission to these ‘colleges’ is obtained through outrageously priced fees and donations. Oftentimes, nurses graduate from such dubious colleges without having tended to patients during their course! The quality of nurses resultantly has nosedived. Those without aptitude and attitude that are required of a noble profession are resultantly pushed into it, adding to their frustration. They are employed by hospitals, especially in the private sector as observers and trainees drawing measly emoluments, till they are equipped with required skill to function independently.
- Nurses’ families and parents expect them to contribute to refurbish or even construct homes, and help in marrying off siblings. The very calling to nursing as a profession therefore suffer, as nurses who graduate are called to carry a heavy yoke on their young and naïve shoulders.
Nursing, therefore as a profession must regain its tarnished image and long-gone reputation it once proudly flaunted. Nurses donning the white coat must take to their smiling ways as they tend to the sick. Nursing must regain its lost glory as a noble profession.
How can this be achieved?
- They must be paid handsomely in keeping with the responsibility they shoulder, so that the tendency so pronounced within their community-to search for greener pastures is stemmed.
- Families must not give into the temptation to make ‘money machines’ out of their wards by forcing them into the profession by coercion, and by forcing them to take up jobs in dangerous instant lands.
The yoke of Life, to nurses must be made much lighter, and their conditions of work vastly improved if they are to function in keeping with the dignity and honor their profession demands and what is expected out of. They deserve to be paid well, and adequately rested, between shifts with adequate staff numbers. They expect their own superiors to represent them and their woes, than those of their superiors’. They deserve to be treated with much greater dignity and respect, especially by doctors and hospital managements. Their families must contribute by substantially easing responsibilities placed on their young shoulders, right from the commencement of their profession as nurses. Hospitals must mete out amenities viz; adequate duty rooms, canteen facilities, and facilities like creches, which will contribute to their efficiency and undistracted dedication, by taking substantial load off their overburdened shoulders.