Nursing’s Strong Suit

I’m sure by now many of you have heard the clip or read about the Washington senator who, speaking about a proposed new law requiring uninterrupted lunch breaks for nurses, mentioned that nurses, “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.” As a nurse, obviously I was baffled by this statement…if not a little amused. I did my research and found that, yes, as is frequently the case, this statement was taken slightly out of context. The senator was referring to a specific subset of nurses in a specific setting.  

If nothing else, this foot-in-mouth statement, which angered thousands of nurses worldwide, shed light on a growing problem. It certainly got me thinking. In preparing to enter the nursing profession, I tried to mentally prepare myself for what was to come—long shifts, wonky schedules of days and nights, holidays away from family, and, yes, days where I would not have time for a proper lunch break. If I came in expecting the worst, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. And it really wasn’t for the 4.5 years I spent working on an inpatient unit.

As with any job, there are good days and bad days. Any nurse will tell you that on any given day, there just is not time for an uninterrupted 30-minute lunch. And, for the most part, we knew that when we chose this profession. We make it work. We’ve got, if you will, “tricks up our sleeves.” I was a big fan of “pocket snacks.” In between rounds and assessments, I’d sneak a granola bar in the corner of the nurses’ station. It was just enough.  

Nurses have a way of making things work. What many people don’t see is the creativity behind the scenes to make sure we have what we need to make it through that 12-hour shift. Some people might not understand the idea of simply not having a lunch break. And when I really think about it, it is insane. The nature of the hospital environment is unlike any other, and nurses are hardly the only ones dealing with the lack of proper breaks. But nursing managers and fellow staff, on a teamwork-oriented unit, establish systems and procedures to make sure each staff member has time to step away for a few minutes.

We have each other’s backs. There were many times one of my coworkers, whether a nurse or a nursing assistant, stepped in and made me go to the break room. It doesn’t help anyone if you are running on empty—especially your patients.  

If the “card playing” comment did nothing else, it reminded me of how strong the nursing profession really is. I’ve seen memes, comments, videos, and a slew of other social media responses. While I’ve taken it all in humor, I also feel proud of nurses for standing up for each other. I just hope the feeling I had when hearing that comment, of wanting to protect our intentions, our profession, and my desire to, in a way, prove the senator wrong, resonates through nurses everywhere.  

We know what it takes to provide the best care we can. Let that be enough. And when those days seem almost too long to get through, I hope you can remember the response from fellow nurses and know that we’ve got each other’s back. At the end of the day we are all in this for the same reason, and that’s the ace in the hole we all need. 

Marisa worked at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on a medical-oncology unit for 4.5 years, followed by 1.5 years at an outpatient infusion center in Cherry Hill, NJ. She also has her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Scranton, where she played basketball and made many lifelong friends. Originally from Philadelphia, she now resides in New Jersey. She spends her free time either in Cape May, skiing in the Poconos, or spending time with her family and friends- including her dog Peanut.

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