How Millennials could save the profession of nursing


Let me just start this off by saying this blog will be full of generalities. These generalities are based on years of observing nurses and watching a new generation of nurses enter the profession. This is purely my opinion.

Millennials are the generation born between 1980-2000. As a group, they are known as the participation trophy generation. They are the children of baby boomers. Millennials grew up with smart phones, Facebook, and carry with them gobs of selfies and pet pics. They work to live. Millennials have a need to enjoy their lives as they see fit. I could go into a whole diatribe about why this is detrimental, but instead I will focus on why those of us nurses born before 1980 could take some lessons from the Me Me Me generation.

Nurses are bad asses. We are smart, savvy, and hardcore to the bone. We see things that people should not see, and we do it daily. Florence Nightingale taught us to be stern, work our fingers to the bone, and be grateful that we are lucky enough to do it. We work 12 + hour shifts in an environment of sensory overload. We work overtime. We watch people die. We eat terrible food and often barely get a chance to go to the bathroom. If we do get a break, we are worried the entire time that the nurse who is watching our patients is going to mess something up. The incidence of lateral violence in nursing is ridiculously high. When we get home from work we have very little left to give. Lots of us have been divorced at least once.

I love the rich history of nursing. Florence Nightingale is our homey, she paved the way for us, our profession would not be what it is today had she not been a stern disciplinarian who would not take no for an answer.

-BUT- ...and I have to be honest here, I am a little afraid to type this next line.... Florence Nightingale was a bully. There, I said it and now I can't take it back. She had extremely high standards and would settle for nothing less than the absolute best. Florence was not light with her words either. She was tough. She had a reason to be tough. Women were rarely taken seriously during those times. Soldiers were dying like crazy during the Crimean War and it was because nobody washed their freaking hands! I can just hear her now, "Doctor Johnson, WASH YOUR FREAKING HANDS!"

Millennials go through four difficult years of nursing school. Then they hit the nursing units and are all, "What the heck is this mess?". They thought they were going to take care of patients, but they quickly figure out that they are actually sitting in front of the computer charting more than they are in patient rooms. They discover that they leave work feeling like they got run over by a semi. They gain 20 pounds the first year because they don't have time to eat healthy. The seasoned nurses are unkind to them. When they get home, they don't want to be talked to or touched. Millennials are getting burned out and leaving their first job within the first two years, and the number of millennials leaving the nursing profession altogether is rising.

Millennials are on to something here. They don't like something, they quit, even if they are making good money. Millennials are redefining the workplace and our profession is not keeping up. Millennials want to travel, they don't want to feel beat up at the end of the day, they want to enjoy their lives. New and innovative ways of approaching work is what they are after. But the nursing profession is doing the same old same old.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if a hospital went from 12 hour shifts to 8 hour shifts, increased vacation days, staffed the unit based on patient needs as opposed to a staffing grid (this would require trust in our nursing judgment, a novel idea!), over hired nurses to cover call ins and vacations, and found a creative and innovative way to assist with charting (how about voice to text or transcription services!), all while paying the nurses a wage that is fair. I would be willing to bet that hospital would find itself in a position of having to turn away nursing applicants.

So you see, millennials are not lazy. There is nothing wrong with wanting to take care of yourself and enjoying your life. Work life balance is a novel idea to those of us born before 1980. Now, don't get me wrong, I will always treasure my times at the bedside feeling like Sarah Conner from The Terminator. I'm just saying that we should probably take some of the millennial demands seriously and start taking care of ourselves. I know Florence would approve.

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