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14 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM

There's much more to medicine than cold rationalism

Olivier Oullier
There's much more to medicine than cold rationalism
A doctor tests the eyesight of a young girl in Idlib province, Syria

In his 1759 book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith discussed the psychological and philosophical dimensions of the conflict between emotion and rationality in decision making. Smith was far from the first person to recognise this internal struggle. It has been a topic of debate since the classical period. However, even now, many leaders in business and politics still believe that simply furnishing people with enough factual data is sure to elicit rational decisions from them. In reality, this is far from the case. Yet they could not function in most venues without nurses. And where in my recollections are the helpful and caring nurses who were constantly in and out of the rooms, changing bandages, arranging schedules for testing, giving and explaining medications, calming the anxieties of patient and family? I cannot tell you what any of these nurses looked like, what their names were, where they came from. All I remember, and all that mattered, is that my loved ones were tended to by these irreplaceable yet (at least to me) semi-invisible people. I felt comforted and secure because they were there, yet took them for granted.

That these professionals are so unnoticed is a significant aspect of nursing that both intrigues and troubles me. There are over 2.7 million working registered nurses (RNs) in the United States—not to mention our many licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs)—compared with about 690,000 physicians and surgeons. There are more nurses in the United States than engineers (over 2 million) or accountants and auditors (1.2 million). Think of it: More than half of 1 percent of the entire US population are nurses—and the number of nurses is expected to grow over the next half-dozen years to nearly 3.5 million, due in part to the more than 75 million baby boomers who increasingly require residential, home, hospital, or hospice care. Why do we take their work for granted? Surely everyone should realize that nurses are the indispensible and anchoring element in our health care system.

Of course, we all know nurses; I mean, we know them as people. They work out at the gyms we go to, live in the apartment across the hall or in the house around the corner, hang out at the local Starbucks, take courses at the nearby universities where they work on advanced degrees; they are everywhere, men and women of all ages, from twenty-one-year-old graduates to middle-aged folks returning to the work force or starting new professions because of our ailing economy. Nurses are ubiquitous in society. We know that they help us, and we know that they are often the key forces who keep our loved ones (and us!) alive. And yet, we know very little about them—professionally.

There are many reasons for this lack of awareness, foremost of which might be the fact that nurses no longer wear distinctive uniforms, so we don’t readily notice or remember them. No more white hats with the red crosses or white nursing oxfords. Running shoes, clogs, and blue scrubs, sometimes with lab coats, pretty much constitute the wardrobe of all medical personnel in the hospital, nurses included. And the larger the medical center, the more categorized and confined the nurses become. While doctors, administrators, social workers, genetic counselors, and others float through the hospital, nurses remain more or less in their assigned, self-contained units. And because the workload is often overwhelming, they rarely leave the floor—or the operating room. Scrub nurses remain in the OR throughout their entire shifts, wearing masks. At one point in time, hospital cafeterias were maintained to serve the medical staff, but now they mostly service the families of patients. Most nurses in medical center settings have little time to sit down and eat meals like “normal” people.

    The writer is a neuroscientist


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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