As she makes her solitary rounds through the wettened halls of the hospital for wounded soldiers of the Crimean war, Nightingale was aghast at the putrid conditions in which the soldiers were placed for healing. Men were bed-ridden in unlaundered sheets, bandages were not changed regularly (if at all), and the patients were given little access to fresh air, healthy food, and water.
Florence Nightingale was a nurse in the late 1800s and had already garnered a reputation for improving hospital sanitation early in her career. This is precisely why she was charged with the impossible task of improving healing conditions of wounded war soldiers during the Crimean war. In fact, the Secretary of War reached out to her directly.
Upon her stay at the war hospital, she had reduced the death rate by two thirds.
Though germ theory was in its infancy at the time and many did not take it seriously, Nightingale had her own suspicions and referenced this as a reason to have strict precautions designed to avoid the spread of germs in hospitals.
As one of the very few formally educated professionals at the time, one wonders where her inherent confidence and belief in herself came from and at the same time marvel at the effective simplicity of her ideas.
Not only did Nightingale pave the way for radical change in the medical profession, sanitation, and public health, she founded one of the first teaching hospitals designed for nurses. She created a demand for respect for the profession that was eventually to be dominated by women. How did she channel the confidence it takes to create so much change?
As Nightingale had serious concerns about the state of the medical field at the time, so too do the animal nurses at this time. Many end up leaving the profession quite soon after beginning and it has garnered its own reputation for being a “five-year career.” We all want the veterinary industry to differ in its approach to technicians, especially as the field expands. In many surveys or blogs on the topic, the highest rated reason for being unsatisfied with their job is that generally speaking, technicians feel “over worked, underappreciated, and underpaid.”
A number of articles on the topic of unsatisfied technicians are reaching our inboxes more frequently. Of course, we all love to hear the recognition echoed back, but what has actually changed? And if our requests haven’t garnered any tangible response, what else to do?
As Nightingale did, perhaps we, as technicians, can use the old adage: create the change we want in ourselves. Nightingale didn’t wait on anyone—she simply made it happen.
At any point when one wants to affect change, one needs to be able to shoulder the responsibility in creating that change. This is certainly much easier said than done.
When the industry has had a status quo for so long it’s hard to speak up for your own value. This is also something rarely, if ever, discussed during our careers. How to ask for a raise? How to speak up for yourself?
Even when clinics are “above standard” in terms of satisfaction and wage, perhaps the concern is not to compare to what the standard is now. Perhaps we need to re-format the entire question—how can we change what the standard is? If we have something better to aim at, maybe then we can bring up the standard along with us.
To clarify, this doesn’t simply mean an increase in wage. I am talking about overall hospital standards with regard to everything falling under the technician umbrella such as technician-run programs and initiatives. Clinics that have their own nutrition counselling and weight loss programs are a good place to start. Many of these projects garner a lot of respect for the technicians who work on them. The level of detail they work at to help clients and patients is never gone unnoticed. These programs are great to bring back regular clients as well as increase the initiative for new ones to come in to the hospital. Revenue increases and the hospital as a whole becomes healthier. Many clinics find it easier to give back to the community simply because of the increase in number and frequency of people coming into the clinic, donations from a larger pool of clients, and overall community value as a clinic. Many use the extra funds to put toward Angel-Fund programs.
If a technician is to be seen as an independent health care worker, there are so many more things that can be achieved in hospitals. If we increased our own standard of practice and what we accept as our role, such as more autonomous delegation of tasks, more involvement in cases, and more program initiatives. Perhaps then if we take on these changes we will create movement toward our goals in the industry.
There is much we can do to increase our standard of practice, including wages.
Here, I want to expand on Nightingales most poignant quotes as we can relate them to the animal health industry. Hopefully we can take with us something tangible from her wise words and start to create the change we want to see, just as she boldly did in the 1860s.
On being overworked
“Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.”
Dissatisfaction requires action. It is when we are dissatisfied with the status quo that motivates change. This is the beginning.
“For the sick it is important to have the best.”
In this industry we are expected to work over our scheduled hours as in medicine there are always surprises. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves – in the situations where we are over-worked, are we our best? In what ways does this affect patient care?
“If a nurse declines to do these kinds of things for her patient, ‘because it is not her business’, I should say that nursing was not her calling.”
There are many times where we need to speak up on our patients’ behalf. Especially when we don’t think it’s our business. This is part of quality care. Sometimes that trumps extended hours, but that is a reality of the practice of medicine.
On being underappreciated
“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear”
We all struggle with confidence, but embracing your fear and doing the thing anyway is the best way to overcome it. Anyone who achieves this feat on any scale ends up stronger. Perhaps we need to start speaking up for our work ethic and the value we add to a practice. Nightingale would not have managed much if she continued to listen to her fear.
“Let whoever is in charge keep this simple question in her head (not, how can I always do this right thing myself, but) how can I provide for this right thing to be always done?”
This is the most pivotal of Nightingales messages for anyone in management. Choose what is the right thing to be done and set an example. If it’s easy for everyone to follow, they will.
On being underpaid
“I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.”
It’s really easy to make up your own excuses… the hard part is not taking them with you. If you want to be successful in creating change, it’s imperative to move past those barriers. Ask for that raise. Prove why you deserve it.
“So never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself.”