The Nutcracker and Nursing



Disclaimer: This blog is not in any way represent opinions of my workplace

I have seen the Nutcracker ballet about 10 times over the course of my life. There is something about all the moving parts that work together to perfectly tell a story that gets me. When watching a ballet, of course my eye always lands on the prima. The prima is so beautiful with incredible musculature, and she rarely makes a false move. In my periphery is always the support ballet dancers.  Without all the characters (the cute little mice, the wizard, the prince) the Nutcracker would just be the story of a girl dancing around looking crazy. The prima gets all the glory, but those support dancers are probably working a million times harder.

Working in healthcare has always reminded me of a ballet. Watching people run into a room to do an emergency bedside celiotomy is impressive to say the least. Everyone has a role and they know exactly what they are supposed to be doing. When a family finds out about an incredible lifesaving procedure that happened in the hospital, they are so thankful for the doctors who saved the life. The nurse’s skill and clinical judgement likely led to the physician even knowing that the patient needed a lifesaving procedure in the first place, but that is in the background.  The doctor is the prima. Nurses answer all the phones, we take out the trash, and we save lives. Doctors undoubtedly are unbelievably important part of the team, and I adore my physician partners and have such respect for them. My point is to say that nurses are an equally important part of the team. We are co-prima’s if you will.  

Throughout the history of nursing, we have been considered the blue-collar worker of the hospital. We are a group of people who will work our fingers to the bone at the expense of our own health, all because we are answering a calling. We have allowed the profession to become what it is, one that is clamoring to be treated as professionals. One which does the work of a professional yet is ultimately boiled down to a bunch of numbers on a matrix. We spend more time with our patients than we do with our own families. We notice the little things that just do not seem right. We have intuition because we are there with our patients all the time.

When Covid-19 hit the St. Louis area, I personally witnessed an ICU change from a hotel like atmosphere to 1968 Vietnam in the matter of 2 days.  Guess who was in the room for 12 hours a day with our communities’ teachers, grandparents, and brothers who were dying from Covid-19? Every single day, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I saw nurses coming into work, scared shitless, suiting up and going in. Nurses proning patients who were hooked up to ventilators, drips, and dialysis machines-hurting their backs and putting their own health at risk. Nurses talking to families and using cell phones so the patients could see their loved ones on facetime.  Nurses, pouring their hearts and souls into patients whom they had to watch die.

Covid-19 has shown the world that nurses are worth our weight in gold. The limitations that most areas faced while treating Covid-19 patients was a lack of nurses. Physicians can spread themselves out over many patients, nurses cannot- because our job is to be there next to the patient, breathing for them, cleaning their stool, and getting them coffee. Without us, countless grandchildren would never have met their grandparents. Countless mothers would have buried their children early. Countless people would have died alone in the ICUs because they could not have visitors. They did not die alone, they died with us. Across the country, Covid-19 has exposed huge opportunities in the healthcare system. One of those opportunities is that nurses should be treated as valued members of the healthcare team, not as task doers. We are not making widgets; we are saving lives. Most people were not prepared for a pandemic, but then again nurses are not like most people. We ran toward the fire and were willing to go down with the ship because that is what we were born to do. I honestly could not be prouder to be included in a group of people who made it through a global pandemic and saved so many lives. We slayed it.  

Now is the time for us to tell the world what we are worth, both in terms of professional respect and compensation. We owe it to our families, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to our patient’s. Here we are, crashing from five months of working our hearts out, suffering from ptsd, feeling underappreciated, not believing that we are valued because we are not being made to feel valued by all of the things that make you feel valued in your profession- positive feedback, compensation, professional respect. Remember Nurses Week? I say we demand Nurses YEAR. We do not want another umbrella or lunch box-we want a vacation on a deserted island and a lifetime supply of Massage gift certificates.

 A wise man recently told me, “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” Can you guys remind me of that from time?  Because I am a nurse and I will forget.

I do not have a magical solution to nurses getting the respect and compensation we deserve. Nurses play an important role in the healthcare ballet and deserve more credit than a supporting cast. To me, it is a quandary that doctors are considered professionals and nurses are considered replaceable.  My hope is that one day we will get respect that is commensurate given the experience, education and skill set that we possess. Healthcare is so complicated and bloated; I cannot imagine being able to make a real change in a system that is so fundamentally flawed. What I do know is that there are 3.8 million registered nurses in this country. I wonder what kind of ballet that would make.

April Hodel, DNP, RN, CCRN

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