An intimate look at the lives of nurses.
Journalist Robbins (The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School, 2011, etc.) has made a career digging into the secrets of sorority sisters, geeks, overachieving children, and the exclusive Ivy League club known as Skull and Bones. Here, she investigates nursing, offering a detailed, sympathetic, and eye-opening portrait of how nurses work, deal with stresses, and fulfill their mission of serving patients. Drawing from hundreds of interviews and undercover hospital observations, Robbins focuses on four ER nurses who represent a cross section of the profession: Sam, just starting her career at a teaching hospital that happens to be “a destination of choice” for the homeless and drug addicts; the more experienced Molly, who works at a suburban hospital just bought by a corporation with its eye on the bottom line; her colleague Juliette, shunned by a clique of nurses; and Lara, working at an overwhelmed inner-city hospital, who succumbs to the temptation of easy access to narcotics. Caring for patients is stressful in itself, but the nurses’ jobs, Robbins notes, are made more difficult by many abuses: doctors who intimidate nurses into keeping silent when they witness physicians’ mistakes; bullying by other nurses, more prevalent than bullying from doctors; verbal—and sometimes physical—abuse by patients or their families; lack of support or understanding for nurses’ distress when a patient dies; and severe overwork. “For twelve to fourteen hours at a time,” the author writes, “they must demonstrate physical and emotional stamina, alert intelligence, and mental composure” no matter what the circumstances. Cuts in nursing staff have led to impossible patient loads and long hours with no time to eat or briefly rest. Robbins ends the book with a chapter on advice for hospitals, the public, and aspiring and experienced nurses, with suggestions for ameliorating some problems.
An insightful perspective on the realities of crucial health care providers.