Healthcare has changed greatly in the past century. Bedside caregivers, which I refer to globally as nurses, now fill the roles once exclusive to physicians. As physicians have retreated from bedside care, there has been a shift of power towards nurses. No longer are nurses the physician’s submissive handmaidens. Contemporary nurses provide patient care, monitor the patient for changes, decide when to contact the physician and are responsible for knowing if the physician’s orders are appropriate.

The nursing community has become more open and diverse. We currently have several generations of nurses working. As healthcare has changed, so have nursing schools in response. Therefore, each generation of nurses has experienced nursing school differently. The new nurse has the most current formal knowledge. The older nurses are blessed with a wealth of practical, hands on experience.

A Quick Comparison

Think about the day you got your driver’s license. Compare how you drove then with how you drive now. Now, let’s apply the same formula to nurses. In many ways, the new license is really an advanced learner’s permit. Equally licensed or not, there is a great imbalance in power and the knowledge that only experience brings.

There is an implied expectation that more experienced nurses should pass their wisdom on to the young, a time consuming task not always overtly taken into account when staffing floors. It's easy to see from this why "nurses eating their young" could occur, or maybe mistakenly perceived.

What were you taught about professional camaraderie in nursing school? If you went to school with me (and before you ask, no Florence didn't sign my license) it was a project presented on the last day of class, by me, while my wife was in labor, on "The Implications of Collective Bargaining to Nurses."

Other than that one distracted lecture on unions, there was no real discussion on nursing unity.

Getting Organized

Organizations have appeared over the years to represent nurses. Some aim to represent all nurses, others to represent sub specialties within the field. My impression of the national organizations is that they tend to rise to a level where they no longer represent those of us in the trenches. Those representing the specialized areas of nursing are closer to the bedside care givers, but by representing different specialties they enhance the division of nurses in different areas.

The start of National Nurses United (NNU), seems intent on bringing unity to nurses of all specialties. If it can live up to the lofty ambition of its name, it gives me hope of a day when all nurses can go to work enjoying a sense of unity and camaraderie as co-equals, despite differences in age, schooling, or experience—an ideal nursing community.