Inside the nursing profession

Finally, someone who gets what it’s like to be a nurse.

The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital (Workman Publishing Company, 2015) is a new book by Alexandra Robbins, an author and investigative journalist who has written four New York Times bestselling books and is the recipient of the 2014 John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, given by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism; the 2014 Donald Robinson Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism; the 2014 June Roth Award for Medical Journalism; the 2014 Robert D.G. Lewis Watchdog Award; and the top prize in the Society of Professional Journalists Washington, D.C. Dateline Awards.

A gripping narrative

In The Nurses, Robbins provides an insightful and engrossing account of the work lives of four Emergency Room nurses from different hospitals over a one-year period. Although the author relies on pseudonyms and doesn’t identify the names of their hospitals or their locations, the characters and their stories will be familiar to nearly every nurse and will have many wondering if “Molly,” “Lara,” “Juliette,” or “Sam” are nurses in their own ER.

Robbins is known for her skill in making non-fiction as gripping and enjoyable to read as a good novel, and The Nurses does not disappoint in this regard. Robbins tells it like it is and doesn’t romanticize; the nurses she met with didn’t want her to. She intersperses the four main narratives with statistics, research studies, and investigative interviews with hundreds of nurses to build a page-turning account of the issues important to nurses and patients.

Through the tales of its four main characters, Robbins explores the major challenges nurses face in the workplace: on-the-job injuries; bullying (by other nurses, managers, doctors, patients); sexual harassment; burnout; workplace violence; stress; drug issues; heroism and more. Written with heart, detail and honesty, the story captures the challenging, joyful, frustrating, and heartbreaking work of being a nurse.

Problems of profit-driven healthcare

While focused on nursing, Robbins also presents an unvarnished examination of the problems with our profit-driven healthcare system, such as deliberate under-staffing, poor standards of cleanliness, and special treatment for those with money. A Virginia nurse explained that this is why policy makers in Washington might not understand healthcare. He said, “Politicians have such a warped sense of how the healthcare system works because they never have to be part of the actual system.” VIP care becomes problematic when those patients unnecessarily take up resources that more critical patients need.

Unsung heroes

Over the course of its 368 pages, two main points emerge: 1) nurses mostly love what they do; and 2) they deserve respect and support. Robbins concludes by offering remedies for the many problems nurses encounter, with suggestions for what hospital administrators, patients, families, nurses and aspiring nurses can do to make things better. Among her suggestions, Robbins urges hospital administrators to involve nurses in decision making, find ways to flatten hierarchies to foster more cooperation between health professionals in order to improve patient outcomes, and prioritize workplace security.

The Nurses is available in hardcover and e-book formats from all major book retailers.

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