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A Notice Is Not Going to Cut the Mustard
   2015-03-26 16:28:21    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Xie Tingting

By Liu Yan (About the author)

In an effort to improve nursing care in China, the National Health and Family Planning Commission and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine have recently issued a joint notice, urging nurses across the country to be more patient at work.

According to the notice, nurses should improve their bedside manner, and under no circumstances show a lack of enthusiasm, give impatient explanations, or provide perfunctory service.

While I certainly applaud the good intention, I must say a sweeping statement like that is just not realistic and therefore will not achieve much in the real world. To quote a nurse at a general hospital in Beijing who chooses to remain anonymous, "(I) attend dozens of patients every day, and it's impossible to be smiling and patient all the time."

Given my (sometimes, not always) short temper, I tend to agree with that nurse. But of course, you can argue that having a tough job doesn't give anyone a free pass to be an unprofessional a-hole. The nurses know what they are getting themselves into, and they know hardship comes with the territory, so as long as they are still holding that job, they should suck it up and always be nice to patients.

That sounds fair enough, but it really isn't.

For starters, nurses are often caught between a rock and a hard place. In Chinese hospitals, it's not uncommon for a nurse to take care of more than 50 IV therapy patients per day. You have to keep running around, checking progress, changing medications, finding veins, calming down whoever is afraid of needles, so on and so forth. If you try to be patient with everyone, there is no way you can finish your workload. Not to mention that those still waiting in line will either start cussing like nobody's business, or worse yet, start some kind of commotion.

On the flip side, if you don't try to be patient with everyone, you will be accused of having a bad attitude and being unprofessional (which triggered the above-mentioned joint notice). In other words, you are damned if you do, you are damned if you don't. What then? Naturally, sometimes you'd just go through the motions and be done with it. At least being considered "impatient" is infinitely better than having to face angry patients who might go Liam Neeson on you.

And it's no secret that in China, there has always been more of an emphasis on doctors than nurses. Hospitals are willing to do whatever it takes to attract good doctors and make them stay, because they can directly bring in more patients, and thus more revenue and more publicity.

Here's a shocking statistic: In certain Chinese hospitals, nursing care only generates 0.5 percent of the said hospitals' total revenue. It is no wonder then, that nurses are reduced to being secondary, assistant-like characters. To save budget, hospitals often cut down the money and resources originally allocated for nurses and give them to doctors instead.

If you work just as hard as your colleagues (or perhaps even harder), and yet what you get is nowhere near their level, be it money, resources, appreciation, or respect, can you put a smile on your face and be endlessly patient every day? Unless you are a saint, I don't think so.

Of course, you can then argue: "But no one forced me to be a nurse! If it's that bad, I'll just leave and find another job."

Guess what? That's exactly what happened. Many disillusioned nurses who are fed up with the low pay, lack of respect and heavy workload have indeed left for good. As a result, there is a severe shortage of nurses everywhere and the problem has only worsened over the years.

Back in 1978, the then Ministry of Health already stipulated that in medical institutions, every five patient beds should be equipped with at least two nurses. Now 37 years later, that still seems like an unattainable goal. Ironically, the Nurses Regulation was adopted at the executive meeting of the State Council in January 2008 and came into effect four months later. So strictly speaking, as long as hospitals in China haven't reached that ratio, they are still "breaking the law" every day. (Yes, there are subtle differences between "law" and "regulation", but suffice it to say that regulations are enforceable just like laws. For convenience's sake, I'm going with "breaking the law".)

Another telling statistic is that in China, we have less than 2 registered nurses for every 1,000 people. This not only falls short of the World Health Organization's recommended number, but also fails to reach just one third of the average level in developed countries.

As a firm believer in equality and fairness, I honestly don't blame those nurses for ditching their profession. I mean, you can't ask them to be "angels in white" 24/7 and yet not treat them fairly in return. That would be hypocritical.

Sure, there can be occasional exceptions where I do blame individual nurses. Remember that bad apple a few years ago? She posted pictures of her patients on Weibo and said something along the lines of "Die fast or die slow, I don't care. Just don't die on my watch! I'll be off work soon." That really was a terrible nurse who wouldn't be patient or nice even if her life depended on it. (She was later fired, as I recall.) But that was an extreme case. Overall though, I'm still inclined to believe most nurses want to be as patient and nice as possible, if they themselves get treated fairly. Granted, that's a big if, without which the whole argument would be moot.

Upon the release of that joint notice, Weibo quickly conducted a survey. Out of thousands of respondents, only 5.6 percent believed the notice would actually improve the nursing service in our country. I'm with the rest 94.4 percent on this one. Unless authorities try to reform the current medical system and solve the problems at the root, I don't think the notice will cut it.

About the Author

Liu Yan is a best-selling author specializing in English learning and popular culture. Among his published works are English - The Real Deal (1 & 2) and Hold On, Sit Tight, Let's Enjoy This Cinematic Ride Together. He is also a long-time columnist for such esteemed magazines as English Language Learning and JoyRide English. In addition, Liu Yan is a commentator on social and cultural issues. He wants people to think of him as a trusted friend who can inform, educate and entertain all at the same time.

The opinions expressed here are only personal, and do not necessarily represent CRI's official policy.

Read all opinion stories by Liu Yan



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