As nurses, we need fun – and respect – if we are to survive the stresses of the job

Colleagues of my vintage remember when there was more room for camaraderie, says Jane Bates

Colleagues of my vintage remember when there was more room for camaraderie, says Jane Bates

Good-humoured teamwork can help nurses through the hard times  Picture: iStock

Outraged and bemused, or is it outmused and beraged? I am so indignant I can hardly get the words out.

Strolling around a busy marketplace, I came across a stall selling bags sporting the names of various professions. Everyone was considered great. Paramedics are great, solicitors are great – you get the gist. But our venerable profession? We, apparently, are not ‘great’.

'Our' bag said 'Nurses are naughty'. It had a caricature of a nurse giving what was supposed to be a lascivious wink but looked more like she was developing Bell’s palsy. I know it was supposed to be a bit of light-hearted nonsense, but really?

There are reasons for the global nursing shortage, and these must be addressed

2020 is the year of the rat and the electric car. It’s also the year of the nurse and midwife, and while there is no lack of the first two, there certainly is a global shortage of nurses. 

The International Council of Nurses has prevailed on governments across the world to act ‘swiftly and decisively’ to rectify this situation, because disaster looms if they put off addressing the problem for a moment longer. But what will this mean in practice?

The job needs to be made more attractive

Retention must be the first priority. For those who have a choice about employment, there need to be rewards to attract them to stay in a job that is becoming less and less tolerable. Because here’s the reality for many nurses working in the NHS:

  • Pay and prospects Not looking good.
  • Job dissatisfaction Resources are lacking and we cannot provide the care we know we should give. And that hurts.
  • Lack of respect Contempt for our profession seems to come from the top, from the Department of Health and Social Care, down (see market traders above). 
  • Unrealistic expectations No one can give 100% all the time. We have to eat and drink and achieve some head space. We are not robots.
  • Inadequate leadership Where bullying is tolerated and the work-life balance of staff has gone out of the window.

Bearing in mind all of the above, it's the all-important camaraderie that is vital to nurses. When all else fails, this is the ‘reward’ for many of us… the humour, the team work, the ‘craic’.

‘Nursing is no fun anymore,’ is a sentence I have heard said many times, along with, ‘the stress is so bad now we’ve forgotten how to laugh.’

Good humour should be at the heart of our profession

I will soon be meeting up with some former colleagues to celebrate our 50 years in nursing. What will we chat about? It won’t be clinical issues, or our careers, it will be the laughs we had, the windows we climbed through to escape furious matrons, the practical jokes we indulged in on night duty. All of these would be frowned upon these days.  

Maybe ‘naughty’ gives the wrong impression, but perhaps a bit of jollity would restore the good humour that is the heartbeat of nursing.

So next time you see a nurse contorting their features and fluttering an eyelid, they are probably just trying to recapture the past. When we got through the tough times with mutual support, and by simply having fun.

Jane Bates is a retired nurse

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