Nursing needs you!

12 May 2016

KIM CARTER argues if nurses want to be nursed in their own old age in the way they expect and require, they need to spread the word about the positives of nursing as a career, and not just the challenges.

I am fortunate enough to have grown up with a mother who is a nurse. My sister and brother-in-law are also nurses and I am working on my nephews to continue what has become a family tradition!

I always wanted to be a nurse – not only because I had a good role model in my mum, but also because she and her nursing colleagues were totally positive when discussing their work and the impact they made as nurses. I have never regretted becoming a nurse and can’t imagine that anything else would give me the same satisfaction and pride. If I can be half the nurse my mum is, I will be doing really well.

However, when talking with colleagues I am always surprised to hear many do not recommend nursing as a career option to the young (and not so young) people in their lives. They cite various reasons and I agree there are challenges.

And sure, I agree most of us will never earn what we deserve. We also may not attract the same openly adoring attention as other professional colleagues and – to our national shame – not all our graduates can find jobs on graduating (although it is agreed we need more nurses now than ever). And yes, we may never experience the degree of influence you would expect an essential profession as large as ours should have. Nor are the uniforms glamorous – or often the hours – and certainly not some of the work!

But despite this, I simply cannot stop my mission to recruit others to nursing. Because anyone who has been well nursed absolutely understands what it is that we do, and they know the value of this throughout all corners of the health system.

Nurses are the ultimate icebergs – you just see a little bit of what we do – because mostly it happens behind the scenes, in the quiet moments in the middle of the night, over the phone, in cells, on the marae, in homes and in clinics, in classrooms and in cars, at the bedside, roadside, in the air and everywhere in between. Those for whom we care absolutely know our true value, even if we sometimes forget this ourselves.

So I believe we have to uncouple our perceptions of what we are worth and the value of the care we give, away from our perceptions of what we are paid and the challenges we face. I think we really need to see ourselves as those we nurse see us and, if we did this, we would not hesitate to encourage people to become nurses.

Also, given the predictions about future nursing workforce shortfalls, I am unlikely in my old age to enjoy the level of nursing care that I should expect and will require. The evidence indicates I  will therefore face the risk of a higher rate of hospital admissions, less quality of life, more urine and chest infections, be less safe, have more falls and feel more isolated and depressed. I will also (most alarmingly) have a 70 per cent chance of dying in the year following any significant illness or acute health event.

The evidence also tells me the main thing that will prevent me from experiencing all of that, and keep me as well and as independent as I can be, is timely, caring and compassionate intervention from my nursing colleagues of the future. However, where these nurses will come from is a problem that can only be solved if we all do our bit to help build a viable, sustainable, well structured nursing workforce.

This means that each of us is responsible for recruitment – not only for nurses to work alongside and replace us, but for extra nurses, to make sure we can care for everyone who will need nursing in the future, including ourselves.

There are three things that will make a difference:

  1. It would be good to hear more of us talk more often about the long list of opportunities nursing offers, rather than the barriers and issues we face. We need to convince our best and brightest that nursing is an option for them and provide role models which inspire and encourage.
  2. We must then be responsible for ensuring we provide high-quality, enthusiastic and meaningful experiences for our undergraduate student colleagues so they graduate 'fit for purpose' and ready to join us in the world of professional practice.
  3. Lastly, we need to better articulate how our contribution can improve the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders (with a focus on what people need from us and how we can deliver this) and then align our professional aspirations alongside our community’s aspirations. This will ultimately better place us to influence the systems we work within and provide opportunities for positive change and improvement.

Let’s all get out there and make it our mission to spread the word, communicate clearly and positively, and encourage others to consider nursing as their career of choice. It is in our best interests to do this because if we want to have nurses around when we need them we simply can’t afford not to.

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