The cutbacks in health-care funding have not only affected the medical profession. In fact, as a profession, our nursing colleagues have been handicapped to a greater extent than we have, since most of them depend on hospital beds for work. Hospital beds close because nurses are not available to provide care, not because a surgeon cannot operate. And nurses have not been available because... well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

Nurses have been leaving the province, and the profession, in large numbers because they have been treated badly—if not contemptuously—by policymakers and strategists. The number of nurses graduating in the province has been cut in the last decade to save costs. But, unlike medical graduates, graduate nurses have faced a reducing number of full-time positions; the policy, in the name of cost-cutting, has been to offer only casual or part-time, rather than full-time, positions. In addition, registered nurses have been forced to do the more menial work that was previously the purview of licensed practical nurses. Professional “therapists” have taken over other, more rewarding parts of nursing activities. Head nurse positions have been dispensed with, so that young graduate nurses have no key mentors or role models. Since there is limited potential for advancement within the profession, salary benefits are provided only for the limited number of graduates with full-time work, and it’s simply no fun any more—is it any wonder that nurses give up or leave?

Well, the chickens are now really coming home to roost. And it is quite obvious that, in order to resolve the resource problems we have with physicians in the province, we must resolve the resource problems we have with nurses. The RNABC has put forward very reasonable recommendations for doing this, but I fear that the ministry will take its sweet time giving these their consideration. If, on the other hand, the BCMA were to add its political clout (which I hope it still has) to the recommendations of the RNABC, the probability of action would increase.

Recently, a journalist for The Guardian described in amusing and instructive detail his experiences after a diagnosis of lung cancer. He noted that, to his surprise, the fabled doctor-nurse relationship was a lot less hierarchical and more democratic than he had anticipated. The nurses who took care of him were more attuned to his comfort and peace of mind than were his physicians, and it was a reconciliation of what was medically necessary with what would make him most comfortable that governed his actual management. That sounds good to me.

It’s a symbiotic relationship between the medical and nursing professions. We should give it all we’ve got.


Timothy C. Rowe, MBBS, FRCSC, FRCOG. Nurses. BCMJ, Vol. 43, No. 6, January, February, 2001, Page(s) 8 - Editorials.

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