Monday, March 02, 2009

Nursing: Surviving the Storm With Trust as the Key

A blogger friend of mine recently posted an article about the nursing profession's "unbreakable" standing despite these challenging economic times. Several of her points are very well taken, and I wanted to take this opportunity to weigh in and expand upon some of her most salient ideas.

According to the 2008 Gallup Honesty/Ethics Poll, nurses are once again in the #1 spot, and have been for the past seven years. In fact, 24% of respondents rated nurses' ethics as "very high", whereas 60% rated nurses' ethics as "high", with only 1% rating nurses as "low" on the ethics scale. Not surprisingly, bankers did not fare so well, along with stockbrokers, people who sell cars, lobbyists, and telemarketers.

My blogger friend points out in her article that the general public adheres to a "nurses are angels" ethos wherein nurses are still regarded as angelic and selfless individuals who serve others due to their higher-than-normal moral standing and ceaseless desire to give. While this "nurse as angel" motif is indeed quite vexing to those of us who would like nursing to eschew it in favor of simple professionalism, the public's consistent habit of equating nurses with the angelic realm has certainly cemented our status as a trustworthy source of care for the infirm. Now, if we could trade in those angel-nurse statuettes for higher salaries, I'd be delighted.

Setting those ridiculous and maddening nurse angel images aside, nurses are indeed a very trusted group of people in many societies, and here in the U.S., it seems that Americans hold us nurses in very high esteem. Personally, I'm happy to be a member of a profession that is so revered. Taking that into consideration, I feel strongly that the nursing profession should more aggressively utilize this trust as a means to, 1) recruit more people into the profession, 2) gain further recognition as a true profession (not just a "calling") with its own code of ethics and standards, 3) advance recognition of nursing research, 4) parlay that trust and recognition into higher pay and better benefits, 5) demand government support for those wishing to enter the profession, and 6) pressure the President to create an Office of the National Nurse that would be on equal footing with the Surgeon General in terms of public health and national health policy.

Nurses have earned the trust of millions of Americans, and it is my point of view that the nursing profession should intelligently and wisely parlay this trust into an acceptance of an agenda of greater professional recognition and increased earning potential.

Speaking of earning potential, here is a conundrum that is especially troubling to this nurse who has actually seen his salary decline over the last few years. If lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, stockbrokers, business executives, and members of Congress rank so low on the public's list of trusted professionals, why do those groups earn so much more than nurses? If nurses are so revered by our society, why are we not paid on a scale that matches the importance of the service which we provide? And why don't pharmacists (the second most trusted professionals) and high school teachers (the third most trusted) receive remuneration equal to their societal value and level of public esteem? As corporate CEOs walk away with multimillion dollar severance packages and bonuses at a time of economic implosion across the board, why aren't the professionals who have actually earned the trust of the American people rewarded for that trust?

Nurses have served the public in myriad capacities for many centuries, and like physicians, nurses frequently hold lives (and troubled hearts) in their capable hands. It is an honor to be a nurse, to know that I am a member of a profession held in such esteem, and I honestly and consciously work to earn that esteem as I execute my professional duties.

My blogger friend feels that nursing is a "unbreakable" profession, trusted and needed by all who interface with the health care system. Yes, we are unbreakable, and as a profession we use integrity, competence and character to garner the trust that is so freely given to us by an appreciative public. Integrity, competence and character are truly a great foundation, and that strong foundation is what will continue to carry us through the difficult times ahead.
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