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I was in my second year out of university when I landed my dream job as an emergency nurse.
I was thrilled to finally be working in an environment that I loved. Then, just a month later, we started having people come in with this new virus called COVID-19.
I soon stopped wearing my name badge.Credit:iStock
Being new, I looked to my senior nurses for guidance, but no one knew what to do. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was brought in to protect us as best it could. Working a shift was hot and sweaty. Gatorade and Hydralyte quickly became a common sight in our tearoom.
I still remember my first COVID-positive patient. They were younger than I had expected, in their 40s. I had never seen someone struggling so hard to breathe.
That was confronting, but so was the phenomenon of angry people coming to the emergency department to film us on their iPhones because we told them they were required to wear a mask.
I soon stopped wearing my name badge and was wary of giving anyone my name, scared of being tracked down in public where hospital security wasn’t patrolling. I stopped wearing my scrubs outside hospital after it attracted abuse from people on the street, changing into normal clothes to walk to my car.
Nurses working in an intensive care unit at a Melbourne hospital. Credit:Joe Armao
Then came Melbourne’s long, long lockdown. I ended up working in the COVID section often. I expected to get it eventually.
I saw many more sick people, many more intubations, and would often try to find those patients on my next shift to see if they had survived. I remember doing CPR for 40 minutes in full PPE and being so tired it took me the whole of the next day to rehydrate and recover.
Now, more than a year later, we’re back in lockdown and little has changed for us nurses.
It seems to me that nursing is still considered a second-class career, that we are not considered as important as our fellow frontline workers such as police and paramedics.
In Queensland, police received a one-off bonus and two weeks’ extra annual leave from the state government as a reward for their hard work during the pandemic. They deserve it.
But nurses have not received any extra leave for the toll this pandemic has taken on us.
If I am deemed a close contact and have to quarantine because I have nursed a positive patient, I will be paid COVID leave for the first three days of my quarantine, but the rest of my quarantine gets taken out of my sick leave. And because I get sick leave I am not eligible for the COVID payment from the state government.
Our clerical staff get paid full COVID leave for the duration of their quarantine, as do paramedics. They deserve it too.
Long queues at a COVID-19 testing site in Melbourne. Credit:Joe Armao
I have been verbally and physically abused while at work, by patients and their families. I’ve gone home crying because of the way people have treated me for doing my job.
If I worked in a prison I would receive a danger penalty. Where’s my danger penalty? Where’s my danger penalty for being exposed to COVID for the good of my community?
In my first year of nursing my base wage was $53,000. A graduate physiotherapist at a clinic earns about $80,000 plus commission. A first-year paramedic earns around $72,000. Paramedics also have many extra benefits such as better super and more leave than nurses.
The average age of a nurse in Victoria is in their 40s. There aren’t many young people entering the profession because the conditions are hard and the money is poor.
People only do nursing because they love it. Now, with all the added stress of the pandemic, a lot of nurses, especially emergency nurses, have come to question their career choice.
I had a student nurse on her final placement who saw how hard it was nursing in critical care and told me she was going to go to cosmetic nursing because the pay was better and the work much easier. Since when is our appearance more valuable than our life?
Of course, people do thank us nurses. Coles gave us a goodie bag on International Nurses Day last year, and we get a special mention at Daniel Andrews’ press conferences. But that’s it.
Any thank-you is greatly appreciated, but right now it just feels hollow. It’s like we are being high-fived while drowning.
In the past year I’ve helped saved countless lives, supported people back to health, helped people with their mental health, intubated people, done CPR on patients, and saddest of all, held people’s hands as they are dying without their family being there.
I’m only three years into a career I love and I’m exhausted, burnt out and disappointed. And I’m not the only one.
For me to become more qualified in critical care nursing so I can ventilate critically ill patients I have had to do a course costing $12,000. Why is this not subsidised?
Nurses have been asked to not take public transport to work because we are a potential risk to the community, but we have to pay for parking on-site.
Now we must mentally prepare for an increase in cases in Victoria, and potentially a situation like NSW, and that takes a big toll.
Something needs to be done to fix the broken nursing industry. By helping us, you’re helping everyone.
The author is an emergency nurse at one of Melbourne’s major hospitals. They have asked to remain anonymous.
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