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Readers Respond

Overworked, underpaid and absolutely appreciated: the nation’s nurses | READER COMMENTARY

A healthcare worker takes a bow as she is cheered by fellow workers at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center during Nurse Appreciation week in 2020.

Want to help nurses? Consider becoming one.

I read with great appreciation Peter Jensen’s Feb. 28 column (”Peter Jensen: It shouldn’t require brain surgery to see nurses are underpaid”) and Ken Kinsey’s March 9 letter to the editor (”Nurses deserve our thanks and better pay”), acknowledging the excellent care that their wives received while hospitalized.

By now you have likely heard about the crisis in nursing. At the beginning of this year, the president of the American Hospital Association, Rick Pollack wrote that even before the pandemic, more than half of the nurses were over 50 and 30% were 60 and older. The shortage has worsened since then. Pollack called for immediate measures including increasing support for nursing schools and faculty and providing nursing scholarships and loan forgiveness.

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What can you do to help? Right now. Look around the dinner table at home. Are there any young men and women who are still deciding upon a career? Or are there midcareer adults seeking a change in occupation for one with greater meaning? Ask if they have considered nursing. Nurses are lifelong learners who are strong in science and math and have a respect for the dignity of all people: old and young, healthy or sick, agreeable or disagreeable. We are there to care and accompany them on their journey. And if there is already a nurse at your table, ask if he or she has considered becoming a nursing faculty member since part of the overall nursing shortage is due to a shortage of nursing faculty. There is no one nurse personality type. Our profession has benefited from having members from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures and experiences.

Nurses practice in critical care units and specialty units such as pediatrics, oncology, neurology, cardiology, orthopedics, and labor and delivery. Nurses also practice outside hospitals in school health rooms, primary care clinics, rehabilitation centers for those with addictions disorders and public health departments. And with the growing aging population, visiting nurses see patients at home after hospitalizations to oversee their recovery and coordinate other services such as physical and occupational therapy and home-care aids. Nurses also practice in nursing homes and community centers. And nurses run large, multimillion-dollar health systems. You will find them as vice presidents for patient care services as well as hospital or health system presidents. The president of the Johns Hopkins Health System, Kevin Sowers, is a nurse.

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There are many ways to enter nursing. The traditional baccalaureate program is four years long while accelerated baccalaureate programs or Master’s Entry programs for those who already have a degree may be one to two years long. And increasingly, nurses in health systems leadership pursue a Master’s or doctoral degree in nursing. Nurse scientists who conduct the research that guides the profession frequently have a Ph.D. Nursing faculty often have a doctoral degree, practice expertise and preparation in teaching methods.

What do those who enter the nursing profession study? At the Conway School of Nursing at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., our baccalaureate students follow a liberal arts curriculum for the first two years taking courses including philosophy, theology, English, history, biochemistry and anatomy and physiology. This prepares them for both the scientific grounding of nursing and the critical thinking and ethical decision-making necessary. I met one of our alumni recently who graduated 10 years ago. She is a nurse practitioner who works with critically ill patients in a large hospital in Boston. When facing ethical issues surrounding patient care, she often opens the notebook from a theology course she took at Catholic University 10 years ago. Reverence for life and the profound dignity of each person — these values continue to guide her practice today.

One of my favorite things to do as dean is to ask our young men and women students why they chose nursing. They come from many paths. Some saw nurses in action, caring for a relative while others were involved themselves at a young age in the care of a sick grandparent or sibling. Some love the challenge of learning about the complexities of the human body, mind and spirit. And some are responding to a call “to be a light to the world” as we say at Catholic University. They are simply drawn to the transcendent power of healing that can occur when, guided by faith, one treats the whole person with love, care and compassion.

Marie T. Nolan, Washington D.C.

The writer is dean and professor at the Conway School of Nursing at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.

Thanks for the reminder of how necessary nurses are

The letter written by Ken Kinsey is really important to me as my aunt and mother were both registered nurses trained at St. Agnes School of Nursing (“Nurses deserve our thanks and better pay,” March 9). My mother was one of the first two laywomen to be assigned as a hall supervisor. Nursing was very different in my mother’s era. Nurses wore white uniforms with starched bibs, collars and cuffs before the widespread use of air conditioning. They weren’t allowed to wear their uniforms in public, but you could spot them on the streetcar by the small case they carried, containing the uniform, which they would change into once arriving at the hospital for their 12-hour shift.

The idea of getting the patient moving after surgery or childbirth had not been developed, so bed rest was the order of the day. Ether was used for surgery, and there were no recovery rooms, so the patient would be returned to the hall or ward deathly sick, requiring heavy-duty nursing care. If you entered the hospital with pneumonia there was a very good chance that you would leave in a box.

The St. Agnes community was very tight. As a boy, we would visit the homes of doctors and nurses, or they would visit us. When I was growing up, few people had health insurance, so when you went to the doctor’s office you paid with cash or check. My Mother would administer B-12 shots to neighbors so they would not have to pay the doctor. In my era children got all the childhood diseases: chickenpox, measles, German measles, mumps and seasonal flu. It may be difficult for certain Republicans to understand, but the advent of vaccines has prevented the spread of these highly contagious diseases. Neighbors and friends would consult my mother about various ailments. Women would ask my mother to check their husbands’ hernias. As my mother would say, “they didn’t have anything she hadn’t seen before.” My mother’s bluntness would cause me to want to evaporate into thin air.

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Several years ago, I was an outpatient at GBMC, and I received 44 radiation treatments for cancer. I was a reluctant patient as I have never liked ANYTHING medical. I must confess that I underwent a major change in my attitude. As Mr. Kinsey reported, the staff were so very positive and upbeat. Every single employee was very professional and extremely compassionate. I kept waiting for the bad egg to show up, but everyone was as close to perfect as I have ever seen. Strangely, I looked forward to seeing these very upbeat people. Excellent training helps already positive people shine.

There are problems for nursing in the future. The ongoing pandemic has taken a toll on the nursing staff, not just here, but in other countries as well. An aging population, coupled with a declining birthrate, spells big trouble. Nurses have never been paid well as they are in what has been a female-dominated profession. We still don’t pay women a fair salary. We should reduce the outrageous salaries of hospital CEOs and other administrators. If we don’t raise salaries, recruitment efforts will be useless. Obviously, this is an issue that needs immediate governmental intervention. We need to train many more nurses. During the pandemic we have seen many immigrants taking excellent care of us. We need more immigrants in medicine and nursing. We should welcome them with open arms.

Thanks to Mr. Kinsey for reminding us of how necessary nurses are. We need to advocate for better pay and more active recruitment. We have no time to waste.

— Edward McCarey McDonnell, Baltimore


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