Meet Hannah, a 27 year old Registered Nurse from NSW. She has worked remote to urban, emergency to district, paediatrics to anaesthetics, you name it. 

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I have never seen anything like this in my entire nursing career. Almost constantly we have been over capacity with patients in the department, ambulances ramped for hours, multiple cat 2 patients sitting in the waiting room, covid patients unidentified and exposing people, people sitting in chairs in the corridors waiting for acute beds, the sheer number of people has been overwhelming. And it’s because covid slowed everything down. 

Working in our covid section, with the same amount of nurses as pre-pandemic, with 4 patients each, is unsustainable. Getting allocated there each shift brings a drain to your day, people have to beg some days not to do another consecutive shift and still end up in there. Adding on the donning and doffing, the buddy checker/runner that is not provided as extra staff, the nervous final time out before you walk in, the acuity of the patients, their fear, confusion, impulsiveness, comorbidities.

Also, the constant re-fit testing because we are told our fitted masks will not be supplied anymore. The changing goalposts around whether we can wear mepilex on our noses to protect the already broken skin. All the little and big things add up, day after day, as you take on more overtime, go to work broken mentally because if you call in sick you know it could hurt a patient or staff member.

I have watched this year’s bright and passionate new grad nurses sink into the stress cycles, burnout and jaded nature of what nursing creates now. We are expected to suck it up, shouted at by our colleagues, overworked managers and nurses in charge who are simply expressing their frustration at a broken system. Expected to skip breaks, reprimanded if we ask for one as ‘sorry, there’s just no one to cover you’ while our confused patients continue to climb out of bed unsupervised and potentially hurting themselves on our watch. We destroy ourselves physically and mentally to desperately try and scrape through a shift where there still manages to be avoidable injuries or mistakes to our patients.

Why are we setting ourselves on fire when we aren’t even able to help by doing so?

No person is physically capable of doing this job anymore and not hurting themself in the long run. We simply need more staff and they will not provide them. For 5 years I have worked as an RN, baffled at how a system can keep throwing money at us, be the largest source of expenditure, and yet we still don’t have more nurses on the floor. I truly believed that facing an unprecedented, world-changing pandemic would surely be the push to finally get safe ratios. But what I don’t think the government or the public understand is that we were already short-staffed, we already had desperate staffing issues.

And so when you throw a pandemic in the mix you need to rip off all the bandaids you threw on the fracture and go back to theatres to fix it from the source. This conservative management has got to stop.

I am one of the nurses who is leaving, after realising the stress this job is causing me will never be justifiable and after physical injury. The guilt and shame I feel over this exemplifies the ethos and culture of ‘pushing through’ that the health system is squeezing nurses through at the moment. I only hope that by sharing my story and raising my voice, that one day those shifts where you look at each other and say ‘gosh this has been nice’, will be the norm, not the exception.