This past week, Senator Maureen Walsh (R-Washington) made the erroneous statement that nurses probably play cards while at work. She also made a remark that if nurses are so tired, they should work 8 hour shifts like the rest of people working the standard 8 hour shifts. This was all in her remarks regarding her suggested amendment to a bill being introduced to state law. The original bill, if passed, would require all hospitals to give nurses uninterrupted meal breaks and rest periods. Her amendment would remove smaller hospital centers from this requirement. Her amendment also would ban hospitals from scheduling 12 hour shifts.
Senator Walsh’s remarks has sparked a crazy amount of memes mocking her statement and due outrage over her severely out of touch mindset. I’m not a nurse, and I haven’t asked my sister-in-law or aunt who are both nurses specifics, but here’s what I can say as someone who works in the emergency response department and has experienced the care of nurses through family members and friends in the hospital.
Nurses Don’t Play Cards. Period.
Anyone who has ever spent some time in the hospital knows that the vast majority of face to face time with hospital staff is going to be that with a nurse. Nurses make rounds routinely. By the time they finish their first round, they start again on the next rounds. Then they have patients who are needy, whether for legitimate purposes or just because they want attention, to keep them busy in between rounds and during rounds.
It’s the nurses who help patients use the restroom, shower or take sponge baths, change diapers, draw blood, and a host of other care-taking responsibilities. The nurse updates the charts with what has been done where, how the patient feels, and follows the doctors orders. My experience has been that doctors are hardly ever around. They pop in once a day, if that, and then the rest of your time is with nurses.
They don’t have time to play cards. They’re too busy with all of the grunt work to sit down and shuffle a deck.
The 8 Hour Shift
Senator Walsh’s specific remarks regarding the 8 hour shift claims that nurses “talk out of both sides of their mouth” regarding how tired they are. Thus her amendment would cap the shifts at 8 hours. What is ironic is that Senator Walsh believes that the hospitals are working in the red and can’t afford to hire more staff to cover the breaks. Yet, from what I understand from my supervisors at a 911 dispatch center where they’ve considered going down to 10 hour shifts, it is that decreasing from 12 to 10 hour shifts would require more staff. The same would thus be true if a hospital had to cut their nurses down to 8 hours.
So if hospitals are going to hire more staff anyway, it only makes sense that they hire a couple more nurses to cover breaks than several nurses to cover extra shifts. Senator Walsh’s solution is simply not practical. Her lack of respect for the nurses and the profession, uncalled for.
Reasons Why Break Requirements Should Be Instituted
The reason why nurse’s ask for uninterrupted breaks is not to play cards, Senator Walsh. There are health reasons both physically, psychologically, and emotionally why breaks are the solution to job satisfaction ratings, employee retention issues, and overall improvement of productivity.
High intense and highly stressful jobs take a toll on the body. With my job, I may sit at a desk for 90-98% of the shift, but I am on the phone with people in critical moments of their day. I have to deal with their emotions: fear, sometimes anger, and keep them calm while I obtain critical information for the law enforcement and emergency response teams that are en-route. I am at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder even though I am not on scene of the incident. And just as soon as my call is released, another one comes in. There is often no relief from the constant barrage of critical calls. No time to process the last call before the next one comes in. My employer allows for a 15 minute break every 2 hours to process the stress and recuperate.
Now imagine what a nurse’s shift looks like…on their feet all day long. They’re under pressure with the weight of the lives of their patients in their hands. They have to constantly be on guard for dosage specifications, where to put a needle for what, how to properly clean, disinfect, and care for wounds or wind up the brunt of someone’s lawsuit, possibly the cause of someone’s death.
They become emotionally invested in at least some of their patients. And some of those patients they will lose. Yet they still have to carry on for the rest of the patients on their floor. It is emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting.
Yet Senator Marsh thinks they play cards all day.
Nurses may play cards, but if there is one thing for sure, it is NOT while they are on the job. Senator Marsh, you ought to shadow a nurse for a 12 hour shift. Furthermore, I suggest the nurse ask you to follow all the instructions to a T, deal with the crap patients give you, handle the dirty messes, and then come back and make your choice on the matter. Maybe then you will understand just how exhausting and draining it can be.
And let’s just suppose for a moment the hospitals can afford to hire enough staff to go down to 8 hour shifts, the tole is still draining in an 8 hour shift that a 2 day weekend would not be sufficient for recovery and recuperation for the next 5 day work week. That is another reason why jobs like these are designed with long hours on fewer days and long weekends.
Politicians should refrain from making disrespectful assumptions of other professions. They should make it a habit of walking in the shoes of those whose lives they purport to be supporting or opposing and then come back with an educated recommendation for ways that are actually effective for the benefit of those they serve.
I retraced the clip of her statements here on CNN, but there is a host of other resources out there if you wish to listen to her remarks yourself.
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