Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA
ZAMBIA has over the years witnessed an increase in the number of nursing schools and subsequently people entering the profession.
According to the General Nursing Council of Zambia (GNCZ), the country has 60 registered nursing schools countrywide of which 29 are private institutions, 24 state-owned, and seven faith-based institutions.
The increase in the number of institutions offering training in nursing has no doubt led to more nurses not only being trained but also employed in the health sector.
This is indeed good for a country like ours which has been grappling with inadequate medical staff to cope with the growing population and disease burden.
As of 2016, it was estimated that the country’s medical sector only employed 11,000 medical personnel while the actual demand was 17,000 creating a deficit of 6,000.
While it is commendable that we now have more people entering the medical profession and the gap for medical staff narrowing, the question remains on how many of these have the calling of the profession.
The American inspirational nurse and motivational speaker Donna Wilk Cardillo said, “Nursing is not for everyone. It takes a very strong, intelligent, and compassionate person to take on the ills of the world with passion and purpose and work to maintain the health and well-being of the planet. No wonder we’re exhausted at the end of the day!”
True to the words of Ms Wilk Cardillo, nursing by nature requires people who are compassionate, caring and tolerant, among other virtues, because it involves facilitation of healing, alleviation of suffering through diagnosis and treatment as well as giving hope and comfort to the dying.
This is why nurses are considered the heart of healthcare and caring is their essence.
By nature of their jobs, nurses are expected to demonstrate empathy, understanding and love during their course of duty because they are on a daily basis dealing with people in delicate conditions.
It is, however, saddening that today complaints about the bad work attitude among medical personnel and nurses in particular have become a proverbial song in the ears of many Zambians.
Apart from experiencing the bad attitude of some nurses first hand, I have come across so many people who have shared their displeasure about the work attitude of some of our medical personnel, especially the nurses in public health institutions.
The most common complaints are about the cruelty or apathetic attitude of some nurses at critical times that medical attention is really needed.
Some people have also blamed the laxity of nurses for the death of relatives.
This attitude has in some unfortunate instances led to the battering of some nurses by agitated relatives of patients or the deceased.
This is, however, not to say all nurses are cruel. The truth is that there are so many nurses doing a good job by executing their duties with compassion for patients.
These are people who are genuinely called to the medical profession.
It is, however, sad that there are also many people that have taken up nursing as a mere source of livelihood and do not possess the much-needed positive attitude.
This is much more now that the job market is limited and nursing seems to provide an easy, if not automatic, access to employment.
This is why we have some people with head knowledge on how to administer medication to patients but do not have the heart to care for the sick.
Canadian Television personality Carolyn Jarvis emphasises that while the knowledge a nurse possesses is important, the persona is as important.
This entails that the knowledge one acquires and their personality should complement each other to be able to provide an exceptional service.
In the midst of public outcries, some medical personnel have defended themselves claiming they are understaffed and that this leads to emotional stress, which ends up spilling over to patients.
As valid as their claim may be, the reaction of nurses under such intense pressure is what differentiates those who are called to the profession from those who are not.
This is because “the test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves,” according to Logan Pearsall Smith, an American writer.
There is need to strengthen the function of career guidance in schools. Career masters need to guide young people in identifying their passion and choosing the right careers.
In the case of nursing, there is need to help young people understand that attributes like empathy are prerequisite to one becoming a nurse.
A nurse, for instance, needs to be empathetic to be able to connect with patients emotionally, to understand their needs and motivations when they are hurting, tired, and frustrated.
Nurses are supposed to be emotionally strong. This is because nurses are constantly exposed to the realities of human suffering, and stressful medical emergencies. When long work shifts or a fast-paced environment wears them down, they need an emotional reserve to help them provide quality care. In a nutshell, nurses need to master how to help others deal with their stress while managing their own.
Patience and calmness is a necessary attribute of a nurse. This is because during the course of their duties, nurses are bound to face difficult patients, conflicts and confusion. Regardless of the situation they find themselves in, nurses have the duty to provide excellent care for patients.
And given that nurses are the first point of interaction with patients, they need good communication skills to be able to listen to patients and also provide important medical information.
It is therefore imperative that the Ministry of Health and other relevant authorities take interest in the outcries of the public to bring sanity to the health sector.
The ministry should consider providing free toll lines where the public can report unfair treatment, which will in turn inform investigations.
In an event that a nurse or medical staff is found wanting, they should be shown the exit door without hesitation. This is because we cannot afford to risk human life at the hands of those who lack compassion.
Let it be clear to all that nursing is not for everyone but only those who have compassion and are ready to go an extra mile to save lives.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.