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Unionizing Nurses Would Only Penalize the Patients

October 11, 1987

I am writing in response to Harry Bernstein's grim analysis of the status of professional nurses today ("Underpaid Nurses Could Learn a Lesson From Teachers," Sept. 15). Bernstein does make some correct observations about the nursing profession.

Nurses do highly stressful work with sick patients for long hours and low pay. Nurses do not have the powerful leadership role in this country for health-care legislation. Nurses do need to align their professional identity and experience into a cohesive, powerful voice for health care.

Bernstein completely misses the boat in his remedy to solve the problem. His suggestion that nurses should unionize is frightening. Penalizing patients by leaving them without care during a strike is not the way to improve professional recognition and working conditions.

Nurses' strikes will not solve the problems of high stress, long hours and low pay. It will make skilled nurses even more of a scarcity, leave hospitals with even bigger gaps in staffing and leave patients without care-givers. It will do nothing to move nursing ahead professionally.

Nurses are care-givers. They take care of sick people and their families. Most nurses entered this role because they enjoy the work of caring for others. Few nurses perceive of themselves as "handmaidens for doctors." Most nurses perceive the role as professional colleagues working with physicians, not for them.

Bernstein uses words such as "dedication" and "compassion" to describe his perceptions of what nurses do. Surely, he would be glad to see nurses act in a dedicated and compassionate way to improve the professional issues we must address instead of walking out on the very patients whose conditions of care we are trying to improve.


Thousand Oaks

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