Nurses and midwives are the superheroes of health care

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Each year the healthcare community celebrates International Nurses on May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale`s birthday. The day provides people working in the nursing profession, as well as those who have been cared for by nurses, the opportunity to acknowledge the wonderful work that nurses and midwives do.

Here at CKN we think Queensland’s 77,000+ nurses and midwives are truly the superheroes of healthcare. 

Not only are you responsible for providing patients with excellent care, but also often become a patient’s greatest advocate, a family’s trusted confidant, a doctor’s right hand and a role model and mentor for the nurses and midwives of tomorrow. You provide professional and holistic care, working to promote good health, prevent illness, and provide care for the ill, disabled and dying. You welcome us into the world, help us stay for as long as possible and often comfort us in the end. 

You also educate student and newly graduated nurses, conduct research into nursing and health related issues, and help guide health policy and develop systems of health care management. 

With the vast majority of patient care falling to you, the strength of a hospital’s nursing department has a direct impact on the overall health of a hospital. Excellent nurses make for superior hospitals and safe, satisfied patients. International studies have shown that more nurses and better staffing ratios mean lives are saved, adverse patient outcomes are reduced and hospital costs are lower. 

You play an important role in our society and at some time you will help us or someone we love when we need it most. On a wider scale, nurses are an indispensable part of the Australian community, essentially responsible for the healthcare of regional and rural Australia, and an essential part of health promotion, illness prevention, education and research across the nation.

Nursing has been around essentially as long as humans have, and despite monumental advances in the nursing environment, technology and workforce, many of its basic principles have not significantly changed over time. The general public sometimes feel they know what nurses do, and that familiarity may have led to an underappreciation of the value and necessity of the profession, and a sense of apathy towards it. 

“To do what nobody else will do, in a way that nobody else can, in spite of all we go through; is to be a nurse.”

Rawsi Williams, J.D., B.S.N., R.N., CQRMS-LTC, Ph.D.

Some believe nurses do not stand as tall as they should in society because of the age-old perception that you simply perform basic, menial tasks – toileting, showering, dressing, and occasionally handing out some pills. This myth would be easily busted with an in-depth conversation with any nurse. It is also a vastly female dominated profession (90% in Australia) and the sexist perception of lower-valued female roles can’t be ignored.

In nursing positions where "menial" activities may still dominate, there is still more going on than lay people would understand. While you shower a patient you perform a thorough assessment of their skin integrity, mobility and psychological status; while you administer medications, a thorough knowledgebase underpins each pill you administer – you may withhold an anti-hypertensive if the patient's blood pressure has plummeted, or delay their diabetes medication if their blood sugar is sitting low ‒ and the list could go on. That is on top of shifts where duties have been dominated by preparing complex intravenous medications, dressing wounds, performing ECGs, meticulously calculating a patient's fluid balance, or giving blood transfusions.

Of course, nurses are not perfect and as with any job, people make mistakes, patience can be tested, and there is always more to learn. But nurses, on the whole, are strong, intelligent individuals, with the toughest skins but softest hearts. 

So why would anyone do it? Nurses have the privilege of carrying people through what is usually one of the worst times of their life. While nurses may not remember all of their patients they care for, their patients will remember you decades later. You have the strength to deal with extreme trauma, abuse and death, and often personally bear the emotional and physical scars to prove it.

Nurses and midwives do not choose the job for financial gain, and those of us who have met you after a night shift know you don’t do it for the hours. Or for the glamour either — there is no glamour in having every bodily fluid known to man in contact with you at some point over your career.

No, you do it because as nurses and midwives you can actually say those words that so many people yearn to be able to say for ourselves, “I love what I do.”

Saturday May 12 is International Nurses Day. It's time to replace apathy with appreciation, awareness and respect, and to say a heartfelt thank you.