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OPINION: Shifting the spotlight of health care A lot needs to change about the perception of nurses

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Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Elisa Do, Contributor

“How many of you are thinking of pursuing a career in health care?”

Since my first day at McMaster, I have — on several occasions — been asked this same question by various professors. 

Every time, the classroom flooded with hands in the air. And it was safe to say that none of us were surprised.  

Health care encompasses a growing range of professions that have become increasingly popular in our world today. This popularity arises from various circumstances, but it is especially due to the growing number of aged “baby boomers.” As folks of that generation age, the number of individuals seeking healthcare also increases. Thus, leading to greater needs for healthcare professionals, and further emphasis on the field’s importance. Considering this, many children are being taught the benefits of building a career within health care, and more specifically, the benefits of becoming a physician. Physicians are known to have high paying salaries, receive a high level of respect, and face considerable job demands. 

However, working in health care is meant to be attractive beyond these practical values. To work in healthcare means providing for others; it means caring for complete strangers. And that, to me, is something meaningful. 

Unfortunately, when thinking about the opportunities that healthcare can offer, folks tend to brush aside other crucial professions within the field. One of which include the profession of nursing. Nurses are often viewed as inferior to physicians and portrayed as mere subordinates within the media. They are thought to hold fewer skills, when in truth, they simply hold an extremely valuable set of different skills.  

When I think about the time I spent in the hospital with my family, I think about the warm smiles of the nurses. I remember their patience, and their acts of kindness that brought my family comfort. That is not to say that the doctors were not helpful during our difficult times, but the level of intimacy was not the same. I remember the way they cheered my family on, and I remember thinking to myself, “I have to give back to this community someday. I have to bring kindness to other families the way that they did for me today.” In the short amount of time that the hospital became my home, those nurses touched me and my family in a way that will last a lifetime.

When I think about the time I spent in the hospital with my family, I think about the warm smiles of the nurses. I remember their patience, and their acts of kindness that brought my family comfort. That is not to say that the doctors were not helpful during our difficult times, but the level of intimacy was not the same. I remember the way they cheered my family on, and I remember thinking to myself, “I have to give back to this community someday. I have to bring kindness to other families the way that they did for me today.” In the short amount of time that the hospital became my home, those nurses touched me and my family in a way that will last a lifetime.

Nurses are not only caregivers, but they can also be involved in treating injuries, administering and managing medications and performing basic life support. Many of their responsibilities are those typically associated with the roles of doctors. 

But even with all the responsibilities that nurses carry, many still regard nurses as “assistants” to physicians. Nurses are often thought to be less significant in the hospital as many forget that health care requires a team effort. If you want to provide care for strangers, and wish to have those strangers put faith in you, it takes a lot more than diagnosing conditions or performing surgery. It requires providing emotional and psychological support for patients and their families, maintaining a safe environment for everyone, and taking unique approaches when providing care for each individual. 

In an integrative review done by several members of the Department of Nursing Science at the University of Turku, the perceptions of nursing that young people carry were found to inaccurately reflect the profession’s actual responsibilities. In fact, these perceptions have not changed in the last ten years. Nursing was described with poor working conditions, difficult shift work, and low social status. Along with the many stereotypes regarding nurses — such as gender roles and sexualization — found in the media today, many folks fail to further consider the educational requirements and intellectual demands that nurses face. 

Before coming to McMaster, I had intended on applying for the undergraduate nursing program. Although I eventually changed my application choices as I discovered more regarding my interests, the nursing program still stands to me as an exceptional pathway into doing amazing work. 

However, when I had initially introduced my family and friends to the idea of me becoming a nurse, I was presented with questions such as: “Why would you want to be a nurse? Why wouldn’t you want to be a doctor?” Hearing these questions not only felt insulting to my values, but more so insulting to the professions themselves, as if all there was to a career was the monetary benefit, or the accepted social status. 

And I know doctors and nurses are not the only jobs being misconstrued. Understanding the responsibilities behind any profession takes more than a simple Google search or hearing salary ranges from friends. 

Whether to choose medicine, nursing or any other health care pathway for that matter, should be a decision made based on what the individual seeks for their future. There are many wonderful reasons to become a physician, but I believe the spotlight of health care has been too concentrated on the title of ‘doctor’ rather than what the job really entails. It’s time we shift this spotlight and highlight the importance of other contributing members of the healthcare team; it’s time we take a closer look at what it really means to “pursue a career in health care.” 

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