Afterward 2010
Nursing’s Real Power to Heal
How many of your patients know that you, as a nurse, are the most important link in the Health Care System? How many of them understand that if it wasn’t for your observation and intervention, they wouldn’t get the care from the doctors they need? How many of you, yourselves, have forgotten how essential you are, have repressed your own need to help and heal, have minimized the calling that moved you toward nursing in the first place? And how many of you have gotten so frustrated and discouraged by the business of Health Care that often Nursing feels like just another job where the magic and meaning are gone!
Well, you are important and if anyone has the power to change the current Health Care System so that it can provide healing for the sick and dying, it’s you. It’s us! It’s Nurses.
The TV dramas about medicine and nursing are the most popular programs on television. They have a vast audience. People want to know what goes on in hospitals, and they want to know more about the healers who work there. They want the real informa¬tion, but most of it is hidden from them.
Health Care consumers are told that they have to be aware of what’s happening in the Health Care System. They are told that hospitals, doctors and nurses can’t be held totally responsible for their care, that they must be “informed” in order to make intelligent choices. But, of course, most of the time, we know that unless they’re from Scotland Yard they can’t get that information. They don’t have a clue because we, in health care, are party to keeping it secret from them. We speak in jargon and tell them only enough to be certain we can’t be sued.
Patients, when feeling sick and vulnerable, can’t stand for themselves. Even if they understand that the system doesn’t serve them. But who can act as their advocates, as their teachers, and help them accept their responsibility to make the correct decisions in order to get the best care?

The doctors can’t, because in many cases, they’re hired by the hospitals or given staff privileges, and are constrained by the Health Insurance Companies. In the networked system of HMO’s, if doctors don’t adhere to the rules, if they suggest consultations too often, if they spend too much time with their patients, they’re locked out of the lists, not allowed to be “participating” physicians, and so they can’t work. They can’t earn a living. They’re becoming powerless.
Hospital personnel have nothing to gain by telling patients about the flaws and shortcomings of the Health Care System. Hospitals are businesses and so those who work for them are generally public relations people, because they want to keep their jobs, especially with the latest mergers and the increased competition between Health Care Conglomerates. Everyone has a stake in keeping secrets.
But we, as nurses, have promised to act as Patient Advocates. Part of our job description is “teaching.” Over the past twenty years, nurses have fought for more education, more recognition and higher salaries. And we actually have made some headway. But as a result, the new Health Insurance Companies business of Health Care, Managed Care and HMO’s, has begun to replace us with unskilled workers — in order to cut their costs. How many patients know the difference between a white uniformed professional RN, or an LVN in a white uniform or an unskilled worker wearing a white uniform, who has had only 6 weeks training?
Soon nurses won’t be allowed at the bedsides of the patients who need us to comfort them when they’re sick and dying. We’ll be doing more complicated documentation and charting for the Health Care business. In a very short time, the medical crises that occur will have to be full blown before the assistant can recognize it and call the doctor to see a patient, because we — nurses who have been trained to know — aren’t there to intervene, to catch the errors, to evaluate the changes, to know when a situation is life threatening. Historically, it was the nurse who acted as a safety net and called the doctor so he could diagnose, treat or get to the hospital in time to prevent irreparable harm or even death.
In the short run, taking nurses away from the bedside will save the business of Health Care money. It might lower costs. It might help the bottom line.

But eventually, when enough malpractice suits are filed, when the business of Health Care, HMO’s and Managed Care, has to pay more for staffing less, we’ll be called back.
In the meantime, what can we do to help our patients and to stand for ourselves and those vows that we made? What can we do to honor our calling, heal ourselves and keep the promise of our dreams?
I believe we have to tell our stories! Each of us have them. Stories of patient’s who suffered because of bad policy, incompe¬tence or poor staffing. Stories of damage caused, and harm that is being caused now. We, as nurses, are the expert witnesses. And there are millions of us.
And politicians and policy makers don’t know more than regular consumers. Their research is done with pen and paper, not with fluttering hearts and struggling breaths. Their policies are decided with impersonal charts and numbers. We have to let them know what we know.
If each nurse tells one story, writes one story, and sends that story to a local or national newspaper, a magazine, a TV station, a local Congressmen, or to the White House, we will be heard! With so many of us telling the truth we might even be able to save some of those patients that we’ve fought so hard for the right and the knowledge to save.
But as long as we’re silent, as long as we’re separate, we have no power to nurse, to teach, or to change the Health Care system as it exists today. If we’re not with our patients, we can’t serve them. And if we don’t stand up now, together as One, our patients won’t be able to fight to keep us at the besides and in hospitals. They will continue to be powerless. And we, as real nurses and healers will become as extinct as Unicorns.

Please add your voice to this issue. Leave a comment and tell me what you think!