At the end of each year, people often try to count our blessings and offer thanks for the good things that have happened and to hope that the future will bring us closer to our goals. But for some reason, nurses tend to have this nagging feeling that somehow we didn’t do enough: we didn’t do as well in school as we should have; we didn’t spend enough time with our families; we lost a favorite patient or friend; we didn’t nurture our relationships; as hard as we work, our jobs are a disappointment, unsatisfying.
The unrealistic demands of our profession set us up for failure. It is impossible to do all that workplace policies, ideal nursing theory, patient needs, and our own moral values require. So, as the saying goes, we “do the best we can.”
When the bar is set high but the tools to reach that bar are set so low, we enter a world of “cognitive dissonance.” “Cognitive Dissonance” can be defined as the feelings of discomfort that result from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance. In our case, the belief that we have the power to positively change our community’s healthcare status is contradicted by the barriers in place that prevent this — such as workload, dramatic changes in healthcare delivery practices and the environmental challenges that our patients face.
What pushes folks to “get involved,” — in unions or community and religious organizations — varies, based on situations, passions and circumstances. For nurses, getting involved in altering the conditions of work, of healthcare delivery, of socioeconomic challenges to good health has another benefit: it allows us to mitigate the conflicts that emerge in our souls as a result of this “cognitive dissonance.” We are DOING SOMETHING about it, not simply accepting a fate determined by others (in our case, greedy corporations and their political allies).
So many nurses raised our voices this past year! Passage of key legislation in the Assembly of our Safe Staffing (nurse to patient ratios), NY Health (single payer), Community Climate Protection (transition away from fossil fuels) bills and bilateral house passage of our Safety Net Protection bill showed that we are visible, respected, listened to, mobilized and powerful.
Contractual wins from Long Island to Watertown and ongoing vibrant struggles throughout the state, showed the public, our employers and, most importantly, our own members that working together strategically places us one step closer to our goals of creating a superior work environment and healthier communities.
Still, many labor unions and community groups are cringing at the Orwellian cabinet appointments being proposed as this issue goes to press: a fossil fuel magnate in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, a man who wishes to dismantle Medicare in charge of Health and Human Services, a vocal anti-union activist in charge of the Department of Labor, an individual wishing to privatize public schools in charge of Education, and so on.
Now is the time…
Often, Americans have shown that in times of crisis we can put aside our differences and come together: World War II, 9/11, Super-storms and a variety of disasters are but a few examples. Right now, the potential of anti-worker forces to bury our unions, and thus our rights, is great. The possibility of revisions — maybe the annihilation — to Medicare and Social Security looms high. Elimination of critical safety net provisions is up there on the national agenda. Eradication of environmental, workplace and resource protections are on the horizon. If we sit back and do nothing…
Nurses are the most trusted profession in the United States, according to all the polls. That special place we occupy in the public’s view obligates us to put our best foot forward to advocate for our patients and our communities. We have seen how by working together over time we can chip away at the status quo. Now is the time to use our reputation, our humanity, and our strength to join with progressive elements to not only stop the rollback of rights and benefits, but to promote the positive changes in our society that will build our future.