Lifting nurses lifts everyone

On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States


Photo: Arild Berland / NSF
Nurses demonstrate during a strike campaign organized by UNIO in Stavanger in May 2018.

Nathalie Hansen
Bergen, Norway

According to the Norwegian Nurses Organization (NSF), there is a shortage of over 4,500 nurses and 1,700 nurse practitioners in Norway. Within the next 20 years, Norway will experience a lack of 30,000. Nurses are an integral part of today’s health care system; if the shortage of nurses continues to increase, will we have a safe and secure health care system in the future?

NSF is a Norwegian organization of nurses that promotes nurses’ rights. One of the things it focuses on is called sykepleierløftet (lifting nurses), which proposes ways to make nursing a more attractive profession. For example, sykepleierløftet suggests increasing salaries, especially for nurses with higher education. Further, sykepleierløftet demands that nurses get paid during continuing education, aims to facilitate improved work conditions for nurses, and strives to implement a national strategy for mobilizing the labor reserve through measures for full-time employment, recruitment, and working hours. Most nurses work in shifts, and NSF promotes the idea that nurses should be able to change their shift schedules. This is important because nurses work 24/7 for 365 days. We, as nurses, have to be able to influence our own work schedules in terms of when we work days, evenings, and nights, because we often get very little sleep between shifts.

Sykepleierløftet also insists that wards should be staffed based on need. This ensures that there are not too many tasks to do for the nurses during their shift. This is essential to maintain patient safety, as there is often too much stress on the nurses and it is important to keep in mind that we are only human.

NSF argues that one of the main measures to prevent the increasing nurse shortage must be to raise nurses’ salaries. Who wants to undertake studies for a stressful profession where you don’t have time to eat or go to the bathroom, and leave work with a low wage? Many nurses leave the profession because of low salary and high pressure, which is due to too many obligations and not enough staff.

Another measure that can help make this field more attractive is to inform people about what nursing is and how central it is to societal health. I often talk to people who don’t know what nursing is, and I have had to clear up misconceptions about my profession on many occasions. I believe that the most common misunderstanding is that nurses wash butts all day. Of course, butt washing is part of the job, but only a minor part. It’s an advantage to be able to handle bodily fluids. But believe it or not, you do actually get used to it pretty quickly!

In my profession, I meet people in difficult situations and I do my best to make them feel safe and comfortable while they are getting better or are waiting for the answer to what is wrong with them. A major part of being a nurse is observing our patients. Because of our vast medical know­ledge, we can quickly recognize signs of a disease worsening and initiate suitable treatment (with approval from a doctor). And when patients are scared, it is our duty to make them feel safe and cared for. Other aspects of the job include performing procedures, providing safe medical treatment, and informing patients.

A very cool feature of being a nurse is that it enables you to handle acute situations outside of the job. If somebody falls ill in public, a nurse has a duty to help them. This might sound frightening, but it’s amazing to know that you can save someone’s life with the knowledge you carry.

Today people live longer because we have better treatments and medicine, but this also means that more people get sick. How can we care for the sick when we lack 30,000 nurses? And how can we maintain patients’ wellbeing and safety? How can we keep up when nurses get burned out because of too-high pressure at work? The increasing shortage of nurses in Norway affects the whole society, because we all get sick eventually.

It’s important that sykepleierløftet gets implemented. As nurses, we want to give you the very best help, and with a major shortage of nurses we won’t be able to. Luckily, we have an organization that works tirelessly to prevent these issues, and they are pressuring Norwegian politicians to combat this outcome. I am excited to find out which measures politicians will employ to prevent the lack of nurses in the future.

Further reading:

“5900 sykepleiere og spesialsykepleiere mangler i helsevesenet,” by Kari A. Dolonen: (Norwegian only)
Norwegian Nurses Organization (NSF)’s Sykepleierløftet: (Norwegian only)

Nathalie B. Hansen works as a nurse at a hospital in Bergen, Norway. She spends her time with friends, traveling, eating good food, walking, and exercising.

This article originally appeared in the June 15, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.