There are few professions in North America where people are expected to work non-stop, with mandatory overtime, in physically demanding positions. Yet, that's what nursing is.
There are few professions in North America where people are expected to work non-stop, with mandatory overtime, in physically demanding positions, at all hours of the day, seven days per week. If an employer were to put in a job description that these conditions could be expected, it’s highly unlikely there would be many job candidates lining up at the door for a chance to work.
Yet, that’s what nursing is in many institutions. Nurses who start work at 7:00 are expected to be on the floor well before 7:00 to get their assignments and set up for the day. They may have such a heavy load that their breaks are not even mentioned and meal times may be cut extremely short, if taken at all. Leaving on time after the shift is often not a reality because of all the loose ends that need to be tied up after each shift.
In many situations, if a nurse insists on taking a break, leaving for a meal, or leaving on time, there are hard feelings among those who don’t. Or, it may be impossible to take a break or leave because there are no other qualified professionals to cover for them.
So, what happens? When nurses do sit down and grab a bite to eat, it’s often within view of patients or relatives who then feel they can interrupt and ask for what they need. If the nurses say that they’re taking a break, often, the response is not at all an understanding one. I’ve seen situations where nurses taking breaks off the floor are approached by family members insisting that they be helped, not taking “I’m on my break” as a response to their demands.
What is it about nursing that does not afford us the respect of allowing us to have time to ourselves? What is it about nursing that people feel that we should always be available to be at their beck and call, regardless of what we are doing and where we are?
Is it our own fault? Honestly? I do believe that we play a large role in this. While the lack of staffing isn’t our fault, demanding to be treated like the professionals we are is something we can and should be doing in greater numbers and in louder voices.
Customer service, something that is creeping into US hospital care, has to be stopped. We are NOT providing a customer service. We are providing healthcare. Since there are fewer nurses than ever before and this will get even worse, we can have the upper hand if we speak as one voice. They need us. They need us badly. But we need to start standing up for ourselves and demanding that we be treated professionally and with respect.