There are many hurdles I have yet to overcome in my own state toward the goal of protecting my colleagues, their ability to protect and teach patients, and patients’ rights at the end of life. As far back as I can remember I have read stories in People Magazine and Oprah Magazine. I’ve seen stories on the internet, national news programs, and have watched movies based on real life events on the Lifetime Channel. (Don’t laugh) Regular people like you and me accomplish the impossible every day. They overcome the hecklers, the naysayers, the seemingly impossible hurdles. THEY MAKE IT TO CAPITOL HILL. THEY GET HEARD, THEY MAKE CHANGE TO HELP OTHERS. I used to think that change for our profession was primarily–and solely dependent on the leaders within our profession and within the various nursing organizations—namely, the American Nurses Association–of which I am a member. I was convinced it was the responsibility of the upper echelons within our profession to do all the work and make sure the troops in the trenches at the bedside were heard and protected. It never occurred to me that the bedside nurse could make an impact, that we had the privilege or ability to go to Capitol Hill and be heard by our country’s leaders. I don’t know why I thought you had to have some kind of professional license or “in” to be able to speak. I never wanted to be in a position like this, or a situation like this, or even be involved in politics. Like a plane drops objects to the ground from 35,000 feet in the air now and then, life has a way of plopping things down in front of you, without warning, out of the blue. There is no rewind button, no fast forward button, no slow motion replay function…no “system restore point.”
What I do know for sure is that a path has been determined for me and regardless of what occurs in “other situations” I am going to Capitol Hill to testify about what our profession is enduring right now in this moment, the risks we take, the struggle we face to choose between ourselves and our patients, the damage we sustain to our physical and emotional well being, and the difficulties we experience trying to practice to the full extent of our education and licensure. I want legislation in all 50 states that protects bedside nurses from retaliation while performing the duties we took an oath to do and are mandated to do via the Nurse Code of Ethics. Right now, only twenty three states have laws in place to protect nurses from retaliation when advocating in good faith for the safety and well being of their patients. Twenty three states isn’t enough. In the past year several cases of retaliation have occurred and I wonder how many more have taken place that we don’t know about. How many other nurses have lost their livelihoods, sustained PTSD, and left the profession because of reporting patient safety concerns. The point is, it is happening more often and in many states at once—it has to stop, NOW. This isn’t just an issue about our practice and the future of nursing– its about establishing a safe nest for our young so they can develop and grow in a healthy way, its about the bigger issue of protecting people’s lives, their well being, their basic human rights, and their right to the best healthcare. We went to school to be the protectors, the teachers, the healers, the innovators, and the leaders that are supposed to help shape healthcare policy and contribute to healthcare reform.
Most of us went to school ( and stayed in school ) in pursuit of something more than a “job.” We went to school because we were called by “life” to be nurses and want nothing more than to spend our lives caring for people whether it be at the sunrise or sunset of life. Its that love, that pride, that passion, that belief in something greater that pushes some of us to the very edge overlooking an awfully deep and rugged canyon. It’s that innate desire to do the right thing that causes some us to remain focused on making it to the other side of the canyon by simply trying our wings–no matter the odds. This is my nurse journey, but at the same time I share it with many of you out there who have written to me and those of you who have remained silent and forever changed by your experiences. I have set a goal and I intend to achieve it but would like to ask all you nurses out there–I would welcome you–to write me. (firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com) You can remain anonymous, you can give a fake name, or you can provide all your information–what I want to know are these things:
1. Have you ever been retaliated against in any way when trying to advocate for your patient or speaking up about workplace safety issues
2. How did it make you feel
3. Did it impact your desire to remain in nursing
4. Did the experience(s) affect your health either emotionally or physically
5. Why you initially wanted to become a nurse
I have learned enough this past year to know that there are scores of nurses dealing with the emotional and physical scars they have sustained by trying to do their jobs as nurses, –protecting patients. I have received enough letters to know that many nurses are transitioning out of the profession and surrendering their licenses. I have read enough facebook messages, emails, tweets, and gotten enough phone calls from nurses across the country to know that nurses are the silent walking wounded–ashamed–living with devastating mental illnesses such as major anxiety depressive disorder and PTSD as a direct result of our profession, unsure of what to do with their lives or who they are…..Most importantly I have read stories of lives cut short, whether it be a patient’s life, or nurses who attempted suicide multiple times out of guilt for not speaking up to prevent a patient’s death, or embattled in a nurse bullying situation or a nurse retaliation situation. It should not hurt to be a nurse, at least not in the ways we are hurting today. Nursing should not make nurses feel like they have to choose between their patients and themselves, or that they need to take their own lives, or that they are worthless used baggage– hopeless after the unnecessary loss of a career and life calling. Family members of nurses have written to me tell of watching their loved ones go in and out of psychiatric treatment centers after experiencing “survivors guilt”(because they feared speaking up), nurse retaliation or persistent nurse bullying in the workplace. They describe the gradual loss of a once vibrant partner, a mother, a sister–that their loved ones were never the same. What we do every day as nurses is phenomenal. Its the stuff miracles are made of. We are the backbone and the spirit of healing in this country– ironically its us who need the support and healing the most.
I want to take people’s stories to Capitol Hill with me. I want to collect as many as I can, I want to read as many as I can to the members of Congress so that the voices of so many are finally heard and respected. This is a way you all can “advocate, lead, and care” by just telling your own personal story–without risk, without fear. This is a way you can make it to Capitol Hill and be accounted for. If you wish to go along for the ride and go to Capitol Hill with me then by all means let me know that too. But Im not waiting anymore for people to advocate for me or for my colleagues or for a profession I love dearly and the work of caring that is so much a part of who I am. Its my responsibility as a nurse, and a citizen to do the work necessary to make the change that is needed. Im tired of seeing position statements, reading articles, and hearing about new initiatives–none of which address the true life experiences of the bedside nurses. There is no better time to “do” rather than “talk” than now. Every second we wait, every day that goes by patient’s lives are on the line, a nurse is forced to choose between herself and her patient, a nurse loses her livelihood…or worse his/her life. When Nurses Week 2013 rolls around I want to know that I’ve truly accomplished something that will help our profession retain more nurses, raise awareness about the need to heal and support each other, and strengthen the voice of Nurses.
“That” would make all “this” well worth the ride……
Please forward this to any nurses you know that may have a story to tell, or that want to have their voices heard on Capitol Hill….and again, if you wish to go with me and testify before Congress I think that would be just as lovely……what better way to display a strong unified presence…..