Nurse Stigma by Association

medical-cross-icons-with-bgI have been working in an acute in-patient mental health unit for 1 and half years.

I started right after graduation and since day one I’ve loved my unit, my team, and my work.

I love the challenge… I love that when I arrive to work I never know what’s going to happen, even if I have the same assignment as the previous day.

I love getting to know my patients, their families, working as a team and helping them reach their goals.

But I do have bad days. I’ve cried sad tears, frustrated tears, happy tears, you name the tear and I’ve cried it.

I also have great days, I go home and feel like I have made a difference for my patients.

Just like most (every?) nurse… no matter if you work in med-surg, L&D, LTC, OR, ER, ICU, community, psych I am sure we all can say we have had similar experiences and feelings about our jobs.

I have been aware of stigma against mental health patients for… ever, I guess.

But it never dawned on me that mental health workers (not just nurses) would be stigmatized as well… and from other nurses and health care professionals! Why?

If we all share the same basic experiences and thoughts about our work, no matter which field we work in, why is there this stigma by association? It breaks my heart.

Nurse Stereotypes

I know the stereotypes: psych nurses are lazy, mental health is easy in comparison to other fields, psych nurses have forgotten or “can’t” do med-surg skills. But how can you compare something like trach care to risk assessment/management, or complex wound care to de-escalation?

… Self-injection teaching for Fragmin to anxiety management teaching? I could go on.

Society’s stigma towards mental health, I get (undue judgment on society’s part, but I get it).

Nurse’s stigma towards other nurses, I am more perplexed about.

Maybe I don’t feel as physically exhausted at the end of my shift all the time, but I sure do feel emotionally exhausted.

We all need each other. Thank you ICU/med-surg nurses for stabilizing my overdose patient, I will gladly accept your transfer so my team and I can help him/her with their depression and suicidal ideation.

And that part about psych nurses “not being able to do med-surg skills”: I also work med-surg.

I have worked in med-surg for the same amount of time as mental health.

I taught fellow psych nurses on my team to work the IV pump and give IV meds for our catatonic patients.

I helped a co-worker assigned to a stabilized post-op patient, who also happened to have schizophrenia, feel more comfortable and competent about including a dressing change, incision and circulation check into her assessment.

I also assisted my med-surg team in safety checks and a mental status exam on a suicide attempt patient who was transferred to us during the night shift due to a shortage of psych beds.

… And my teams have helped me when I need to de-escalate a patient, give IM meds, assess a heart sound/rhythm I am unsure about, do a PICC dressing change and so on.

We were all taught the same fundamentals and we can all learn new things.

Even if we haven’t practiced certain skills in a while, if we have the right support we can manage the “overflow” patient together.

Psych patients come to us with medical problems, they come post-op, they come post-partum. Alternatively, medical, surgical, and maternal patients can come with psych issues.

So instead of giving psych nurses that “what do you actually do?” look, give us a high five. Cause we wanna give all you other nurses high fives for doing your job!

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