Three years ago I had just completed my first semester in UCF’s psychology program. Although I enjoyed my classes, I still felt directionless and like I was just settling for the career path I had chosen instead of actively being invested in it. I discussed my dilemma with my mother and she suggested (for probably the hundredth time) that I should try nursing. Before this point in my life, I had no confidence in my academic abilities and thought I would not be smart enough to even get into a nursing program, let alone graduate from one. However, I wanted to give myself the chance to prove myself and as a result, I got my CNA license, started working in a NICU, and completed my prerequisites for the nursing program that I am now attending.
I am one semester from graduating. I have had to endure countless schedule changes, online classes, unprepared professors, and last-minute projects/checkoffs. I am one semester from graduating. During my last clinical day, the patient ratio was 1:7 in a med-surge unit, and although the nurses were clearly struggling, every preceptor I had tried their best to include me and teach me throughout the day. I am one semester from graduating. We have started with 35 students and are now down to 16. We have tried asking the school to be more reasonable and we are told nursing isn’t for everyone and it is a challenge most people can’t handle. I am one semester from graduating. I just received a job as a student nurse intern in my dream field, and am dreading my next shift because the staffing is so poor. My SNI preceptor does not even have the time to teach me anything because she is so swamped and can only do so much. I am one semester from graduating. The suicide rates among female nurses are 58% higher and 41% higher for male nurses when compared to the general US population. I am one semester from graduating, this is the field I have chosen to enter.
Even before the pandemic, I understood that nursing was going to be hard. I have heard countless stories from nurses at my first job about how bad staffing was at previous hospitals, I have witnessed the lack of professionalism by “leaders” in the hospital, and saw how stretched thin our staffing was on some days at the expense of our patients. I saw this challenge and thought I would be able to handle it. Now after the pandemic, it’s gone nuclear. Nurses were celebrated across the country and claimed as heroes, meanwhile they were dying left and right from an illness that could have been slowed if our country cared more about our health than its economy. They dressed in trash bags, reused masks that were weeks old, and worked insane hours. Now we are left with the aftermath of this mess, where past nurses (understandably) no longer want to work and those that do are stuck with walking into a unit that could potentially kill a patient because conditions are so unsafe. Anyone can make a mistake, but when you take an employee who is working four 12-hour shifts in a row, assign them eight patients, and give them no relief throughout the day the chance of one happening increases exponentially. Except these mistakes put real lives at risk.
It is easy to sit back and hand out free Lifesavers and pizza while calling someone a hero, it is difficult to implement real change in hospitals. True compassion is shown through action; our nurses need fair staffing, better pay, and mental health support to show this. However, change takes actual work, but the people who can help would rather look away and drink a martini on their yachts.
I look at how I am being treated in my current nursing program and how nurses are being treated in the field. Is this abuse in my schooling used to condition me for what is to come when I begin working? Are this powerlessness of mine and the unaccountability of my professors just a way for them to say “Well this is how it has always been, and you better get used to it.”? Why do we allow our nursing students to be given unfair ultimatums and no support throughout one of the most difficult degrees anyone can participate in?
My boyfriend, who is a computer science major, can email his professors saying he needs extra time for assignments due to his mental health and they would accommodate him and provide resources. I email my professors about needing more time on our assignments because we already have two exams to prepare for on top of it and are only given one week to complete it and I am given a snarky response about how sometimes nursing is not always fair and I need to deal with it. I am not alone in this experience either, every nurse I have talked to has horror stories of their time in school. When we already have no support in our academics, how are we expected to receive support in the hospital?
I am tired of the complacency I have seen with other nurses, I am tired of higherups telling us “it has always been this way” instead of helping us, I am tired of everyone turning their backs on us and letting patients and nurses die when it is needless. The only way for this to change is for nurses to stand up for each other instead of keeping quiet. It is our job right now to expose what is going on within our units and horrify the rest of the population with what we already deal with every day. Hospital leaders should be ashamed of how things are and they deserve to deal with the backlash. We have so many tools to spread what we have witnessed and to raise each other up. I recently saw a video of a nurse sharing that a patient jumped out of a local hospital’s window because unsafe staffing did not allow them to monitor them properly. As a result, 40 nurses quit without notice!
Unity is power when it comes to defending ourselves and I think we all are at our breaking point, no matter what stage of our career we are in. It is up to us to work as a team to demand better and to hold each other accountable, not just for ourselves but for our patients. I am terrified of graduating, but at the same time, I am invigorated to help try to reform nursing as we know it right now.