Being A Nurse Is A Privilege, Not A Right (On The Rise Of Addict Nurses)

Berge Gazen
Berge Gazen

I have been an ICU nurse for eleven years, a mother for four years, and a devoted wife for five. I take a great deal of pride and find a great amount of joy in all of the roles that I play in life, but I have recently begun to take a little less pride in one of them, and that is my role as a registered nurse.

Being a nurse is a privilege. It is an honor to be able to do something so meaningful and fulfilling as nursing. We see miracles happen every day and we get to see people when they are at their most vulnerable and honest. Over the years, us nurses have fought to earn the respect that we deserve and it pains me to see anything that diminishes that respect in the way that we are seen by others, or the way that we see ourselves.

Most of us experiment with drugs and/or excessive drinking in our teens or twenties, or even our thirties. In fact, I don’t think I ever drank as much as I did during nursing school. Several people in my class regularly used amphetamines to keep up with the heavy workload and no one blamed them or thought any less of them for it. But when it came time to work, when it came time to assume the responsibility of caring for patients, we put the bullshit aside, rolled up our sleeves, and did what responsible adults do. We cleaned ourselves up.

Before Nurse Jackie, there was much more shame and guilt associated with being a drug-addicted nurse. And rightly so!

That shame and guilt were good motivating forces not to become one! Years ago, any nurse who was caught stealing drugs was fired and stripped of their license for the greater good of the public. While that punishment might have been harsh, it gave nurses a very strong incentive to stay clean or, if they had to use drugs, to keep that part of their lives out of the workplace. Over the past couple years I have seen the attitude toward addict nurses change. The stigma is slowly being lifted. And worst of all, I now see new nurses who seem to take pride in it! They wear their addictions like badges of honor while people trust them with their lives or the lives of their loved ones. It breaks my heart to see all of these new Nurse Jackies out there seeing themselves as tragic heroes. And it’s not just Nurse Jackie now!

I recently came across a series of e-books called Male Nurse that pretty much openly glamorizes shooting up drugs at work! Not to mention the fact that the main character in the series sees his fellow nurses as nothing more than sex objects. A little research into the author’s past and you see that his is himself a registered nurse with a history of addiction, so I’m sure the series is more autobiographical than he would have you believe.

I am, and always have been, proud to call myself a nurse and want to continue to be able to take pride in my profession. I am sick of the public equating us with the nurses that they see on television and I am even more sick of seeing nurses who see themselves that way. My hope is that new artists will emerge that can paint more positive pictures of nurses to help bring our image closer to what it should be. Thanks you for listening and thank you to all the nurses out there devoting their time and energy to such a noble and respect-worthy profession. TC mark

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