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Breaking down the barriers.

I went out one night recently to an event where you have to mix with people you don't really know. I went with my lovely partner who is brilliant in those situations. Apart from being dashingly handsome, (in my opinion) he can make conversation with anyone about anything. We make a good pair really, because I am good at filling in gaps in conversation. When he runs out, I generally step in. Making small talk is an art and we seem to have it down pat. But this particular night I had the wind taken right out my sails.

We were sitting at a table with some people when, as a gap filler, I casually mentioned I was a nurse and that I worked for the ANF. This is generally greeted with a myriad of stories from people about friends or relatives they have who are nurses, or about nurses or midwives who have helped them in difficult circumstances. Sometimes in these situations others reveal that they either have been or are nurses too. But on this particular night a man sitting right next to me said: "I hate nurses". He said it so casually and quietly I wasn't quite sure if I'd heard him right. So naturally I said "pardon"?

"You heard me," he said. "Great union though." I was gobsmacked. The bit about the union was ok, but I am so used to a positive reaction to announcing I am a nurse that I didn't know what to say. My partner hadn't heard the comment so he was unable to help me. In the absence of any back up I wondered if I should ignore it or take it on? Such a comment really demands a response. Someone doesn't say something like that for nothing.

I had recently been faced with a similar situation in a forum when I was speaking about the need for minimum staffing levels in hospitals and aged care facilities. An allied health representative spoke up and said nurses would never be happy, regardless of staffing levels.

With that experience in mind I cautiously asked the man why he made the comment. He simply said he was a cardiologist and offered nothing else on the subject despite my probing, It made me think about how nursing is viewed by other health professionals and I have to admit there is often a sense of acrimony. Is it professional jealousy? Is it general annoyance and do nurses just rub others up the wrong way? Perhaps they find us challenging or obstructive. Or maybe there are just so jolly many of us.

It worried me so I sought the opinion of some colleagues including other health professionals and I think at the end of the day it comes to the history of nursing; where we have come from. We have fought so hard to be where we are as a profession. We have risen from being second class citizens in the world of health care to power brokers, rising up to heights that challenge traditional health care morays. We moved beyond hospital based education to universities; we have specialised and created career paths for ourselves; we lead the way in innovation and health reform; and we have one of the most successful and powerful unions in the country. You could say we are a pushy lot. And we have done all this while maintaining the respect and trust of the community we care for. So maybe we don't always make friends in that context.

I am writing this on International Nurses' Day. A day when we celebrate nurses' achievements, and when we can reflect on the future of the profession. We have some big challenges with workforce issues, health reform, and most importantly aged care. We are going to face those barriers, and it is important to bring others along with us as we systematically break the barriers down. But sadly there will always be those who are unable or unwilling to see it our way. The ANF is committed to reform and particularly to improving aged care. We will be calling on you in the next few months to support our campaign to improve wages for nurses in aged care, to improve the desperate understaffing in the sector and to improve the status of carers in the industry. It will prove popular with some but not with others, but hopefully we will make a lot more allies than we lose.



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Title Annotation:Ged
Author:Kearney, Gerardine "Ged"
Publication:Australian Nursing Journal
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 2008
Previous Article:Calendar.

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