Sunday, July 20, 2008

Our heroic nurses

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Without missing a beat on the job last week, our nurses still found the time to volunteer. Their celebration of Annual Nurses Week included a summer school and expo to promote primary healthcare. Jamaica’s nurses are heroes – they are among the most sought-after professionals worldwide, yet they choose to continue to work and volunteer in a country that pays them at one of the lowest scales in the hemisphere.

Anyone who has ever been treated at a hospital or a clinic, knows that the nurse is the heartbeat of our healthcare system. Indeed, it is a very special individual who chooses a profession that is up close and personal with disease, violence and death. No wonder our nurses can be such wise philosophers, Syringa Marshall-Burnett being a fine example.

The Nurses’ Week theme, “Nurses leading Primary Health Care - Delivering Quality, Servicing Communities” should echo in every walk of Jamaican life. Just think of the kind of country we would have, if every single professional group were as zealous in ensuring that their work would redound to the common good.

At the VPA Peace March earlier this year, the Nurses Association of Jamaica was the largest professional group to lend their support. While many others could not tear themselves away from their air conditioned offices, our nurses were adding five miles in the afternoon sun, to the many they had already walked in the hospital wards.

This is the heart of our nurses, and it would be a very hard-hearted nation that would take advantage of their spirit of generosity and compassion. This current economic crunch will affect our nurses terribly, as breadwinners whose schedules do not allow them to take second jobs.

By dint of perseverance and hard work, the NAJ has been able to make some progress in the revision of their salaries, but even with these increases, the salary of the Registered Nurse in Jamaica is often less than that of a nine-to-five receptionist at many New Kingston offices.

In a recent Forbes magazine survey, five Florida locations – Cape Coral, Naples, Sarasota, Port St Lucie, and Ocala - ranked in the top 10 for U.S. cities with the highest job growth. Guess which professional was the most wanted in these five cities – just a hop and a skip from Jamaica – none other than the registered nurse. The starting salaries being offered range from $3.1 to $3.3 million Jamaican dollars per annum. And incidentally, these are salaries which are still being described by US presidential candidates as being at a lower middle class level.

We know that Jamaica is still a developing country, but in the same way that our Government made the inspired decision to introduce free high school tuition and free health care, there is a compelling case for our exceptional nurses.

Ten years ago, my company PROComm proposed to our then client Lasco that they sponsor various aspects of Nurses’ Week.  We were concerned that it was not receiving the attention that it deserved. Our committee discovered that not only are our nurses professionals in healthcare, but they are also solid planners. The top brass of the NAJ attend meetings and – the sure sign of productivity – they take notes and do what they agree to do. Refreshingly, there are no issues of position and ego as we huddle to make each year better than the previous.

Jamaica’s nurses are guided by the International Classification of Nursing Practice which requires: IT , information and evidence, human resource planning, innovations in practice and advocacy.

Beyond study, they are actively researching, planning and implementing – inspiring for a country of too many promises and too few deliveries. It is painful to see nurses getting disrespect from some surprising quarters. To the arrogant and aloof we say, remember, sooner or later you will need the care of a nurse!

Imagine what a wonderful state our country would be in, if like our nurses, we learn to be at once professional and humble, dignified and caring, knowledgeable and noble. We should join them in their advocacy for the advancement of primary health care, and support their cause for just compensation.

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