Healthcare Quarterly

Healthcare Quarterly 7(1) November 2003 : 8-8.doi:10.12927/hcq..16469
Departments

Quarterly Letters: In Praise of Nurses

Mark Bernstein

Abstract

I suppose it's not very original to extol the virtues of the nursing profession, but I don't think doctors have done it enough, and certainly not very publicly.
I've always admired nurses. In medical school when I was an insecure clinical clerk on the hospital wards, I learned a great deal from nurses and often went to them to ask: "What do I do?" During my arduous surgical internship and residency, nurses were friends, colleagues, educators and trusted barriers between my patients and harm.

Over the years as a neurosurgeon I have relied on the skill, common sense, nurturing and humanity of nurses to help me give good care to my patients. I'm sure not there to do it except during their actual surgery, the fleeting visits on ward rounds and visits in my follow-up clinic. The nurses are there around the clock in the ICU and on the ward for my in-hospital patients, while I am operating on other patients, or at home sleeping, or thousands of kilometers away at a conference.

Recently I was on ICU rounds during the SARS outbreak. I found myself losing concentration as the chief resident spoke about his treatment plans at the bedside of a complex patient. I was staring at two nurses conversing with the resident - a young woman half my age, wearing a mask, shield, gown and gloves, and a gray-haired seasoned veteran. I found myself smiling under my mask with sheer admiration, and saying to myself: "What they've been through over the last three months no one will ever know." It was tough enough on patients, families, doctors and all other members of the healthcare professions. But the nurses have been the real heroes in the recent SARS outbreak. There are simply no words to describe how they have endured this assault on almost every aspect of their physical and psychological well-being.

What a noble profession! And what a tragedy that its numbers are decreasing. Governments, hospitals, professional associations and average folks better do whatever is in their power to halt the attrition and help attract young women and men back into truly one of the noblest professions on the planet.

Through the urine and the feces and the vomit and the blood, and the disrespectful behaviour from some doctors who would treat them as subordinates, and governments who have decreased their numbers and used them as a means to an end (i.e., that of saving money), nurses remain the bastions of humanity and caring.

Thank you, nurses everywhere. And my sincere apologies for this rather maudlin but very overdue tribute from one of the many who simply could not do what we do without you.

About the Author(s)

Mark Bernstein, MD, FRCSC, MHSc
Professor, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto
Division of Neurosurgery, Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario

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