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Jason Joao
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Why Nursing is a thankless job

18 June 2014, 08:42

There are many professions in the world- especially those dedicated to the lives, well-being and welfare of others- that are undertaken with great effort and humility and are thankless in spite of the goodness that radiates from these acts of kindness to our fellow man.  Nursing is one of them.

The idea and intention of this article began days ago, from a repeat negative experience.  And as I sit here today, I am writing my first draft still in hospital.  But today my words come not from a place of frustration and negativity, but rather peace and humility towards the subject.

No doubt I will make mention of the negative driving forces that inspired this post, but in the end, it should be about highlighting the good jobs and hard work of nurses that often take a lot of patience and humility and go un-thanked, day after day, difficult patient after difficult patient.

Every journey with a Government Hospital Nurse seems to start off on the wrong foot, at least it seems that way for some of us white folk who find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of landing in hospital.  This is of course in a South African context, and based solely on personal encounters both as patient and companion to patients being admitted and visited in hospital.

I suppose the unhappy beginnings scenario is not isolated to nurses in hospitals, but probably applicable to many other setups where new interactions are plagued by lack of rapport and a sense of poor communication and professional courtesy skills.

With that in mind, barring difficult patients (and by extension, clients or whatever the relevant person is), nurses are quickly perceived to be rude, thoughtless and uncaring in totality.

So it is a pleasant surprise once you learn how things work and build a rapport with the nursing teams in charge of your and the ward you’re in’s care.

I have had some uplifting interactions and positive experiences with nursing staff during my tenure as a patient at Pretoria West Hospital, in ward 9.  Gradually we’ve warmed up to each other and formed friendlier levels of communication whilst learning the routines and behavioural habits of each other in the nurse-patient context.

You gain an understanding of one another, and build light-hearted communicative relationships with the nursing teams on shift in your ward – getting to know some better than others.  The result is more mutual respect and understanding of needs of patients and roles of nursing staff for which the patient needs to adapt so they can effectively carry out their job and the routines as required by their mandate.

For that all the staff on duty with whom this favourable rapport has been built receive heartfelt thank-you’s for every opportunity that offers a need for personal interactivity.  By those measures, their jobs are not always thankless and not all patients suffer prolonged rudeness and sarcasm from the staff responsible for their well-being.

Here’s the issue though.  “Please” and “thank you” is not often received well, and rarely offered by the staff.  My belief is that the intention is not to be rude, it’s probably more a matter of cultural differences and incongruous expectations as a result.  I’ve personally experienced rudeness and responded angrily (during a 5am awakening for vitals to be measured as per routine mandate) by a nurse with whom I’ve built a good rapport and from whom I received a kind generous gesture within 5 minutes later.  That tells me not everything can be taken at face value when you’re mixing cultures and often stressful scenarios between individuals.

There is however a reason for this post, a reason why I deem many nurses’ jobs as thankless and aside from the small unfortunate reasons or causes I have mentioned above.  Sometimes, even best efforts aren’t enough.  Even with those nurses with whom you’ve come to a favourable relationship with.

Late at night, when patients are trying to go to sleep after receiving their final night medication (which also happens really late here in ward 9 of Pretoria West  Hospital) the nurses socialize together around the nursing station, loudly, with not even a hint of caring to use ‘night voices’ at all.  Excited group conversations intermingled with exuberantly loud laughter are a common order of the day.  Or night to be accurate.

I will, once I am back home, attach a video recording to this post which exposes the noisy behaviour.  I recorded a screenshot of the time on my iPad to provide a time reference, and I should add the sound levels are low in the recording and the recording itself was during a milder stretch of noise.

Battling to fall asleep by default, it is extra infuriating when I’m trying to fall asleep and they are so noisy.  Add to that the fact that about 5 hours later they will be waking me to take my vitals- I feel the behaviour is unprofessional as well as totally thoughtless and removed from their overall mandate as nursing staff to the ill and needy who find themselves powerlessly constrained to the environment they are in to recover, only to find themselves trapped in a metal prison of insomnia.

Added to that, it is almost 100% certain that the call button serves NO purpose and even yelling repeatedly for over an hour for a nurse will go unnoticed by the staff.  Though I have not personally needed to call for help in any manner during my stay here so far, I’ve been witness to it both from within the room I shared with other patients, as well as hearing it from all over the ward.

If I can hear the REPEATED calls for nurses (some of which I witnessed and can verify the validity of the calls) from within my bed by patients in rooms far removed from my own, why can’t a team of roughly 6 to 8 nurses not hear it?  Day and night time.  Is such disregard for patients’ needs cause enough to withhold thank you’s for what they DO do for you?

My final bones of contention with nurses is about the lack of common courtesy and communication from nurses, even to direct questions.  There’s an unfortunate common theme in which their consideration to inform and treat patients with dignity is easily dismissed or ignored, and there are no consequences.  They ask invasive questions and you spend much time waiting for progressive results and checkpoints in which you can ask questions and ascertain the way forward for your own peace of mind, and the staff offer little in the way of providing this – doctors included.

I mentioned earlier the late hour at which the final round of meds are administered.  Here we receive supper around 16:40 and after that, tea around 9pm.  In between that your only entertainment is one or two routine vitals-readings.  And second-last meds at about 6pm.  So after that you wait, and wait.  22:50pm.  Last night at 00:10 for me.  I find that unacceptable.

So for all those reasons combined, despite my thanks given whenever possible, I do believe nursing is a thankless job, but I believe the reasons for it have less to do with society being thankless about their hard work and more to do about their lack of compassionate care and attention for their patients.  And that, dear readers, is why nursing is a thankless job.

Personal Note:  Should this blog post ever reach any of the nursing staff who cared for me and really did care meaningfully, and to all other nurses out there who do the same, a big BIG thank you for your selfless hard work and enduring difficult patients and tiring long shifts so others may find health and wellbeing in the world once more.  Your role is often dismissed and unfairly ill-recognized, but is a vital one in ensuring a patient’s happiness and recovery during difficult times.  Thank you for all that you do in our world for our people!

The original blog post with the video embedded is located at

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this blog are the opinion of the author himself and do not reflect the views or stance of any affiliated or associated brands or businesses.  As this is an opinion post, which identifies only the hospital and ward in question and implicates no known individuals, no liability may be claimed nor will be accepted by the author nor any affiliated brands or associations.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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