Real Medicine

A Moment: The Nurse and the Med Student

She was a professional nurse at our hospital, not much older than me, and with no time during shift-work to see her private gynaecologist, she made the scary decision to come to the hospital’s gynae-clinic (scary because she would most certainly be seen first by an inept medical student before seeing the specialist).

I had to page her when I was ready for her, and while waiting for her to arrive I went through her latest results. I saw that on the same day as her last Pap smear, she had had an HIV-test. It was her six-month follow-up test after an injury on duty.

It was a moment that reminded me how connected healthcare workers are. We work long and strange hours that cause us to neglect our own health. We expose ourselves to the flavour-of-the-season bugs. In the heat of the moment resuscitating a patient we are at high risk of being stuck by a wayward needle.

Medicine is nearly inseparable from our lives and sometimes it seems the only people who understand that are other healthcare workers. Other nurses, other doctors, and maybe the final year student that does your speculum examination and hopes to God that it doesn’t hurt.

Why are we in a war against each other? I am so tired of seeing bitter Pins and Tweets about how nurses are taught “wrong”, or how doctors care “less” than nurses, or how we could survive without one or the other profession.

It’s funny until it widens the chasm between doctors and nurses.

We are the ones that can help one another. The ones that can rub our backs when the side-effects of the PEP seem intolerable. The ones that will recite seroconversion statistics ad nauseum to give us hope, but would never suggest that our fears are unwarranted.

We are the same. We have different qualifications but we are all the same in the sacrifices that we make and the love we have for our patients, and sometimes we are the ones who will help reignite that long-forgotten passion when bureaucracy and burnout threaten to maim us.

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13 thoughts on “A Moment: The Nurse and the Med Student”

  1. I love your sage and compassionate voice in this post.

    In my past experience defending doctors who got sued (and had college and privacy complaints or investigations) I repeatedly observed an inexplicable and needless phenomenon that troubles me years late, when I no longer practice in that area. When I called upon another doctor to be my expert in determining if a client had failed to meet the requisite standard of care, I expected (in most defensible cases) candour and an honest evaluation but also a degree of professional empathy. When I retained nursing experts, I learned to expect the opposite. Nurses on the whole ate their young. They revelled in shredding another’s practice and finding fault with even banal oversights or charting omissions. I found this deeply troubing and assumed it must be part of the way the profession trains its people. I hope that’s true because if so then at least there is room for change…

    1. That is indeed very troubling. I wonder what it’s like in South Africa. I feel like there is a fair amount of both phenomena… I think a lack of empathy is such a sad matter. Our work is hard and stressful enough as it is, and some guidance from experts in whichever field would be more useful.

  2. I feel your pain Mariechen. Just know, from one who is old, the schism isn’t universal or inevitable. You will, no doubt in my mind, be quickly identified by the nurses you work with as “one of the good guys”. I know this. You will also, no doubt, come to recognize the “good guys” both of your own field and those of all the other fields you work with and depend on. Which includes everyone from the administrators to the housekeepers (and also, by the way, to the family and friends of the patients!). Not one of us can do this work alone. And, by being one of the good guys you will tip the scale a bit. Hang in there, and thank you again for your insight and caring, you are awesome! Good luck with your exams!
    Ubuntu!
    ~Nancy

  3. Beautiful writing, Mariechen! And I absolutely agree with you. It breaks my heart a little bit every time I witness an attitude that’s hostile toward another of the health professions. We’re all a team, and we’re all in this together. There’s no room for disrespect.

  4. Beautifully written. As a mental health practitioner, there are a lot of things about the health field that I don’t understand (the us vs. them being one). The bottom line should always be that we wish our patients and clients healthy, happy, balanced lives. I don’t see why it has to be any more complicated than that.

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