Maureen Walsh’s Nursing Gaffe: Playing the Wrong Card

  • Post category:Opinion

Walsh’s Gaffe is Distracting from Real Issues Facing Nurses and Caregivers around the Country

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There are times when politicians shove their feet in their mouths, the whole way up to their knees. We all remember when Congressman Hank Johnson suggested that Guam may “capsize” if many more people lived there. We remember when Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee quoted the “400-year-old” Constitution. Moreover, Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set the bar for Congress lower and lower each week.  

This week we have another political slip-up to join the ranks of the chief dunces of the United States. Washington State Senator Maureen Walsh made the suggestion that nurses spend a lot of time playing cards rather than working. This resulted in thousands of playing cards being sent to her office in protest by the hard working nursing community.

Nurses Work Hard Every Day, Saving Lives

It is hard to make an argument that nurses are not one of the hardest working professions in the United States. I would assert that along with doctors, lawyers and accountants they rank among the degree requiring professions that have the most stress at work and the most stress that is brought home from work. Anyone who has been to a hospital as a patient or as a visitor knows that the limited downtime that nurses receive is burdened with paperwork, covering for short-staffed floors and “merely” preparing for the next several hours of work. The concept that a majority of a nurses day is comprised of sitting around playing cards is laughable if it was not covering up the abuses of the system.

The United States medical system has a severe problem.

The United States medical system has a severe problem. We overwork our medical professionals. Moreover, the wages are not really rising with the level of work that we place on them. According to Weatherby Healthcare, doctors who provide vital services such as preventative medicine and pediatrics make less than half of doctors who offer boutique treatments such as plastic surgery. Nurses are paid much less. With an average wage of a nurse being one-third of even the lowest tier of doctors wages. reports that the average salary of a registered nurse in the United States is $71,000. However, many nurses out of college are making between $28,000 and $40,000 a year.  While in some areas this is a “decent” wage, the real problem is how the time is applied for nurses.

Nursing Requires Long Shifts

Nurses are one of the few professions where employees are required to work 10-12 hours shifts. The eight-hour workday was suggested in 1810. More than 200 years later we still have nurses being forced to work 10-hour, 12-hour or longer work days.  

Another abuse we see in this area is that nurses are required to show up thirty minutes to an hour early to fill out paperwork and then stay after work for up to an hour to complete paperwork. This means that the 12-hour shift that many nurses are working is actually 14 hours or longer. Add to this that the nurses can be required to stay after for up to four hours if someone misses their shift and you have nurses who are working 18-20 hours real time! We know that job performance starts to wane at the end of an 8 hour day. How can we expect nurses, who have lives in their hands, to be fresh and ready to go at the end of a 20-hour shift?

Demand Better Conditions for Nurses

Politicians across the country (who work an average of 133 days a year or about 2.5 days a week) need to take a closer look at how the people whose hands hold the lives of so many are treated at work. Congress, which is paid over $174,000 per year, are working fewer days than the nurses. Nurses are averaging 240 days per year (remember their days are between ten and eighteen hours) for only $71,000 per year.

We need the legislatures of each state to take a hard look at how long the workday is for nurses and caregivers across the country. Not only is it dangerous to the health of the nurses, who are a vital part of our nation’s health care system, but hospitals with longer hours tend to have more accidents due to tired workers. Giving nurses the eight hour day suggested in 1810 simply makes sense. In addition, giving them the same protection against being forced to come in early and made to stay late for paperwork (when they have to stay because someone does not show up is a safety thing) is something that needs consideration.

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In other fields it has been illegal to keep people without pay, why is nursing different? Walsh’s comments may have been in poor taste, totally off base and a recipe for defeat in here next campaign (if Maxine Waters is an indication, voters do not care about stupid comments). However, her comment did focus a narrow spotlight on the abuses suffered by medical professionals. As this hotly contested political season starts up, we should all be able to come together. We must insist that representatives in states and the federal government provide the same protections for nurses that have been enjoyed in other fields for almost two centuries.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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