I’m about to Quit Emergency Nursing. Here’s Why.
When nurses suffer, your care suffers too
“You’re a hero.”
That’s what many people think of the healthcare workers in every single country. Yet, in the Emergency Department where I work, so many nurses have either quit or thinking of quitting (including myself). For legal reasons, all of the things I’m about to explain here are all based on my personal experiences.
Canada is experiencing a national nursing shortage. And so is the rest of the world. And it’s dangerous. I don’t know other nurses’ experiences, but these are mine. Unless you are a nurse, I can assure you that you have no idea what we go through, so please refrain from negative opinions.
And here goes my why…
I thought I was going to save lives
I became a nurse, thinking that I was going to save lives.
You know, like dealing with trauma, doing compressions, and etc. I went through a four-year nursing degree, learning about the foundations of the human body, different diseases, medications that people need, and so much more. It was an extensive program where some of my classmates failed. So I thought it was going to be worth it.
I thought that when I became an Emergency nurse, I would be saving people’s lives.
I became a half-nurse, half-maid in the hospital. From changing the patients’ diapers and cleaning after them to giving them life-saving medications, I do everything. I don’t know what a nurse’s job is, but this isn’t what I dreamed of. My nursing routine in the Emergency Department looks like this: assessing the patient, feeding the patient, cleaning them up, giving them medications, and repeating them throughout the day. Some days, I work up a patient by doing their blood work, ECG, administering medications and realizing doctors’ orders.
These are all okay. But what’s not okay is the BS that comes with nursing as you’ll see below, where I’m unable to provide high-quality care. Besides the high-level stress I experience from the job, I also deal with aggressive and verbally abusive patients with and without dementia. Most of the time, I’m not keeping someone alive. I’m there to keep them kempt. I feel that I wasted four years studying the fundamentals of nursing because of this.
I’m no longer learning, I’m just there doing tasks for doctors and patients, and it’s no longer fulfilling.
Apparently, crying on the job is normal
I have friends in many different industries.
Have they been stressed in their job? Yes. Have they all cried in their job? Maybe. But crying in our field has become normalized. Because we go through emotional and physical trauma in our day-to-day lives, it’s become normalized. It’s become normal for some patients to call you names and tolerate it. It’s become normal for some doctors to speak down to you because they think they’re some sort of God that needs to be worshipped.
People are becoming aggressive and taking it out on nurses because we’re the ones who spend the most time with them. And no one is doing anything about this. No one checks in on you.
After a while, you become immune to such aggressive behaviours, and you’re perceived as someone “who doesn’t care.”
Nurses care too much and everyone pushes us
Our healthcare system is a joke.
I’m grateful to be living in Canada, where healthcare is primarily free. But just like in life, when things are free, we all know that it’s low quality because people don’t respect it. When healthcare is free, this is what you see:
- Patients visit the hospital ten times a day, but it’s illegal to refuse care for them even though there’s nothing wrong with them (at least, they’re not considered emergency patients)
- Homeless patients use hospitals as a hotel at night, and we let them stay because it’s illegal to refuse care, so they take advantage of that
- We can’t say no to accepting patients even though they’re not really sick
- We accept too many urgent care patients even though there’s a huge “Emergency” sign on the door but apparently, that means nothing
People think that what they’re going through is an emergency.
And I can’t blame them because it’s mostly our healthcare system’s fault. Most people don’t want to go through the walk-in clinic, even though most complaints can be resolved by visiting a walk-in clinic or an urgent care clinic, which we lack. But, we don’t allocate enough resources to educate the public nor the community healthcare on what to do.
So, most people come to us, and those who need to be there don’t have any space.
Our pay is BS and we’re fighting a losing battle
At the time of this writing, our provincial nursing union is fighting to get rid of Bill 124.
Our very smart premier, Doug Ford, decided to put a 1% cap on the nurses’ salary every year, calling it Bill 124. Their reasoning was to “ensure that increases in public sector compensation reflect the fiscal situation of the province.” Fyi, the inflation rate is 1.2%. So, while everything is getting more expensive with our job is getting harder with all the shortages, burnout, and the pandemic, we are getting paid less. How nice.
Apparently, that’s what it means to become a healthcare hero these days. That’s what we get for risking our lives as we work in unsafe conditions and lack of support from everyone.
I work as a casual nurse in our CT department. My role there is very different than the Emergency. In the CT area, I put the patients’ IV and explain what’s about to happen, and that’s mostly it. Very low stress. And guess how much I get paid? The exact same as my other job where I’m putting 10x more work and energy.
How is it fair that emergency nurses get paid as the same nurse who’s doing less? I don’t think other nurses who do less work should get paid less. I just think that we Emergency nurses need to get paid more.
How am I supposed to stay in a department where I’m putting 110% of my energy, but the result of it becomes anger, frustration, trauma and burnout?
I get assaulted from every single direction
If I had a dime for every single time I got verbally and physically abused at work, I’d probably no longer need to work.
- Have I ever been verbally assaulted by a patient? Yes. And physically, too, by the way. Either because they’ve been waiting for “too long” or I needed to give them medications.
- Have I been verbally assaulted by a secretary? Yes. Because I forgot to let her know that I didn’t send a package for an outgoing patient because I was busy caring for my other sick patients.
- Have I been verbally assaulted by a doctor? Yes. Because apparently, going up to the doctor and clarifying a patient situation warrants so.
- Have I been verbally assaulted by a family member? Yes. Because apparently, nurses don’t know anything, and they only speak nicely to doctors.
- Have I reported any of these incidents at all? Yes.
- Did anything change? No.
So what do you do when you’re constantly exposed to microaggressions that come from every single interaction at your workplace? At one point, you become immune to it, and that’s not okay. Or you leave.
We deal with against all kinds of -isms
Racism. Sexism. Profession-ism.
I recently attended a peer-to-peer session where they made us more aware of anti-black racism. I wasn’t aware that black nurses experienced moderate racism in the department. I thought that I had it “bad,” but I realized that someone can always be worse than me by hearing their stories.
From their stories, patients would sometimes tell a black nurse that they don’t want them to be their nurse. This isn’t customer service. You don’t get to pick who takes care of you.
And when they end up taking care of these patients, patients would make their 12-hour shift miserable by bossing them around. Your nurses aren’t your slaves.
On top of these, patients think that nurses are a joke.
Most people don’t respect our profession. When someone comes to the hospital, for whatever reason, they don’t respect the nurses. The doctors are with patients for a couple of minutes to assess and diagnose. Nurses stay with a patient for 12 hours to take care of them.
Doctors will know what to do, but they wouldn’t know how to do it. A doctor wouldn’t know how to put an IV on you to keep you alive. They wouldn’t know how to use IV pumps to get the medication you need to keep you alive. They wouldn’t know how to prepare the medications so you can keep going. Nurses and doctors have different roles, and they should be equally respected.
No nurse deserves to experience any of these things above.
Why should you care that so many nurses are leaving the profession?
Nurses keep you alive and well.
It’s simple as that. Doctors are very good at figuring out what’s wrong with you and planning your care. But without the interventions that nurses provide — you will literally suffer.
No one will give you your medications. No one will help you look after yourself, help you after you come out from your surgery. No one will be patient enough to listen to your stories. No one will advocate for you when doctors make mistakes or don’t give you the best care.
Soon, the healthcare system will collapse and no one will be there for you.
The pandemic opened my eyes to nursing.
In a way, it was a blessing in disguise because I thought I was going to last in nursing for ten years. But these experiences gave me the courage to try other new things online like, writing, freelancing and coaching. And I realize that I no longer need to stay in a job that I don’t truly love. You don’t have to love your job, but you have to at least like it.
I thought emergency nursing was my true love, but it’s time to find something else for now.