Monday, June 24, 2013

"The Nursing Class Hero"

Fans of the late John Lennon might bristle at my adulteration of the title of a famous song by the iconic musician and peace activist, but a "nursing class hero" is certainly something to be.

Listening to Lennon's "Working Class Hero" today in the car as I commuted home, I realized that, aside from being a great play on words, "Nursing Class Hero" could also be a fitting and interesting way to explore our profession in a new light.

Nursing and Class

Back in the day, nursing was a non-professional, relatively unskilled form of labor wherein nurses were at the beck and call of all-powerful physicians. Over a long period of time, nursing lacked any quantifiable scientific data or practices to underscore the importance of our contributions, thus we were relegated to a rather working class level of recognition, remuneration and respect (the "Three R's" which I just identified). Despite the fact that Florence Nightingale is credited by many scholars with essentially inventing the notion of public health (even though she reportedly did not not readily embrace the germ theory), nursing remained in the background of healthcare for most of its history.

Some time in the 20th century (remember those bad old days?), nursing was considered a "pink collar" job, meaning that it was generally a profession/vocation populated mostly by women (and men who couldn't manage to become doctors because they were too poor, too weak, or otherwise unmotivated by power, money and status). Teachers were generally labeled "pink collar", as well as food service workers, maids, childcare providers, secretaries, flight attendants, and others. You get the picture.

Thus, the "profession" of nursing was diminished in the eyes of the patriarchal minority and power brokers as a woman's vocation of limited value and importance.

So, what changed?

Nursing Claims Its Place

I'm certainly no scholar of the history of nursing, but I surmise that the late 20th century (and early 21st century) saw clear demonstrations that nursing belongs in the ranks of professions that are seen as crucial, important, and deserving of increased pay, status and recognition.

Perhaps it was the rise of nursing scholarship and research that paved the way. Perhaps it was the notion that nursing is actually based on a scientific body of knowledge wholly separate from, but related to, medical knowledge (born of the aforementioned nursing research and scholarship). Perhaps it was because nurses began to value themselves and demand respect and recognition for their individual and collective contribution to the health and well-being of the nation and the world.
And maybe it was the fact that nurses had moved beyond hospital-based Diploma programs, wholeheartedly embracing academia, with nurses earning Associate Degrees, Bachelors Degrees, Masters and Doctorates. And perhaps it was just a combination--a "perfect storm"--of factors that tipped the scales in our favor.

We Are Trusted

As I love to mention over and over again (am I gloating?), nurses have claimed the status of being the most trusted professionals in the United States in twelve of the last thirteen polls conducted by Gallup. (The only year we were not number one was when firefighters deservedly received that recognition following the tragedies of September 11th, 2001.)

At any party or gathering, say you're a nurse and you automatically gain the trust and gratitude of many people who express their love of nurses (and the occasional story of a "nurse angel" who lives in their memory). As a nurse, you also gain the distinction of being the go-to person in your neighborhood or family for advice, questions and medical counsel (for better or worse).

Despite the popular characters of Nurse Ratched, Nurse Jackie and others who taint the profession in various ways, the general public still holds us in overall high esteem, and declaring your "nurseness" has many benefits (but apparently no regular discounts at the movies, the airline ticket counter or other places where it counts).

Let's Ditch the Collar, Shall We? 

Blue collar, white collar, pink collar, green collar, ring around the collar--what does it all mean, anyway? Is it even relevant anymore? These artificial designations are a way for those in positions of power to categorize us for their own patriarchal ends, and we don't have to accept their categories any more than we need to accept their erroneous and misguided beliefs in their own significance.

Nurses have power. Nurses are powerful. Nurses wield power in their knowledge, compassion, skill, insight, and the depth and breadth of that knowledge.

I say on this blog over and over again (ad nauseum, you say?) that, as nurses, we are both the backbone and the connective tissue of the healthcare industry, and that isn't going to change any time soon. In fact, as the population ages and nurses become even more indispensable in the promotion of healthy lifestyles and preventive practices, our ability to impact the health of the nation and world will increase exponentially. And as doctors continue to leave primary care in pursuit of the inflated salaries and status of specialization, it will be nurses (prepared with Masters and Doctoral Degrees) who will fill the gap by caring for those in need of solid, scientific and compassionate primary care. 

Seize the Day

I don't think John Lennon would mind my borrowing his song title (and the spirit of that powerful ditty) to supply a play on words that underscores the importance and power of nurses. In fact, I bet he'd proudly walk in picket lines with union nurses demanding equal pay, improved working conditions, and safer patient care.

Yes, I can indeed say that a "nursing class hero" is something to be.
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