Where would the country be without nurses? Without nurses, the healthcare system would essentially grind to a halt. We call nurses the lifeblood of healthcare, and they're also the connective tissue and the veritable mitochondria, the cellular powerhouses of the delivery of patient care.
But nurses are more than that. Ask most members of the public, the media, and even legislative bodies, and they'll tell you that nurses take care of sick people in hospitals. However, if only 55 percent of nurses work in acute care facilities, there's a whole lot more that they do. Hospitals are crucial, of course, but there's more to nursing than units like the ED, the ICU, med-surg, and telemetry.
Nurses nurse the nation in schools, dialysis centers, assisted living, nursing homes, home health, hospice, and public health. Nurses case manage patients with tuberculosis, fulfill critical roles in patient transportation and life flight, and they provide cancer navigation and care coordination. Nurses are coaches and case managers. They take part in research, and they can be employed in the pharmaceutical industry and biotech. We need nurses on cruise ships, at Disney World, and in adult day care facilities and occupational health centers.
We may not identify that nurse entrepreneurs are essential to the nursing of the nation, but legal nurse consultants, coaches, podcasters, bloggers, medical writers, medical product creators, and nurse owners of private duty home health agencies perform services that touch the lives of millions.
The fact is, nurses fulfill so many roles and perform such a plethora of tasks that it's not easy to enumerate them all. The ubiquitous nature of the nurse is incontrovertible.
Nursing the World
Our vision of the nurse is not, of course, limited to any one country. Nurses hold up the sky in Ghana, the Netherlands, Japan, and the islands of Micronesia. Australian and Chinese nurses are the brethren of those in Argentina, and although some of our practices, responsibilities, and approaches may differ, the basic tenets of nursing are the same. While nurse practitioners may be gaining increased autonomy here in the United States, APRNs in other countries may not be so blessed with such freedoms.
Nurses volunteer for organizations like Doctors Without Borders, and we must not forget the nurses whose lives are on the line every day in war zones like Ukraine. Armies, navies, and other military bodies employ the services of highly trained nurses, and their ministrations are essential.
Yes, nursing and healthcare have their incessant and seemingly intractable problems. Nurses are uncivil to one another, and nurse bullying is prevalent enough that there are books, articles, blog posts, and research dedicated to its eradication. Nurses are leaving — or threatening to leave — the profession in droves, and we are wringing our hands as nurse attrition mounts and schools lack the spaces for enough new nurses to fill the gaps. The profession is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, and burnout and compassion fatigue are commonly shared conditions.
Healthcare is itself dysfunctional, and monied interests have eroded the public's trust, not to mention caused major disruptions in the delivery of appropriate care, especially when insurance companies choose to charge patients more and more but allow less and less, pandering to shareholders and leaving patients holding the bag.
The good and the bad notwithstanding, nursing the world is a tall order, and nurses are up to the job. Responsibility, compassion, critical thinking, manual dexterity, and communication must all come naturally to the nurse.
Legislators, the public, and the media ignore nurses' many challenges at their peril. Perhaps if enough nurses leave the profession and patients are wondering where the nurses went, a wake-up call will be sounded and we will recognize the crisis at our doorstep. Still, there are nurses who will slog it out every day in the muck and mire, fight the good fight, and push their way through all resistance.
Yes, nurses are legion. Nurses are ubiquitous. Nurses are essential. Nurses are powerful. Nurses nurse the world.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach offering holistic career development for nurses and healthcare professionals. All things Nurse Keith can be found at NurseKeith.com.