From the earliest days of human existence, medicine has been central in man’s struggle for existence and survival in the face of a myriad of diseases and other ailments that daily confront him. In its various forms of practice, medicine has been a highly regarded profession and people looked upon medicine practitioners as the most important people in the society. This concept of and societal attitude to medicine and its practitioners have survived till today, with medical practitioners being regarded as next to God in the matter of the preservation and sustenance of life and health.
Over the years, the medicine industry has metamorphosed into a giant network of ancillary personnel who facilitate the work of medicine practitioners in a variety of ways. Among this variety personnel are nurses who constitute the major and most important component of the health industry, with roles and functions which no other health care professionals have. Although the point has not frequently been made or generally canvassed, the role of the nursing profession in the success and effectiveness of the medical profession is not only fundamental but in fact indispensable. And that is to say that the credit and tribute in the success of the medicine profession must be shared between medicine practitioners and nurses first and foremost.
The primacy of the role of nurses in the medical profession is clearly evident in the area of patients’ care which forms the central function and focus of medical practice. While the major function of the medical practitioner or doctor is that of disease diagnosis and drug prescription in addition to routine visits and observation, the nurses perform very many other vital functions that are critical to the survival and recovery of the patient touching on the emotional, physical, mental and psychological state and stability of the patients. Nurses not only play the role of patients’ families and relations by providing necessary minute to minute care, assistance and general support to patients, in the case of children patients, nurses frequently play the role of mothers with all its emotional and psychological requirements by children. The same applies to the care of elderly patients, disabled patients, mental patients and other specialized patients over which the nurse acts as immediate and ever present support and care.
Nurses also play crucial role in post recovery rehabilitation of patients. Besides their vital role in patient care, nurses play a similar important role in primary and preventive health care in the form of public health promotion – educating the public on the prevention of diseases, accidents and general health knowledge. Experienced and well trained nurses also play remarkable role in medical research and diagnosis based on long years of experience in patient care. Hence in many cases, nurses draw the attention of doctors to observed symptoms in patients which are frequently accurate or also provide effective lead for more accurate diagnosis by doctors. By virtue of their observation skills and round-the-clock presence around patients, nurses provide ongoing assessment of patient’s health which when shared with doctors lead to more effective or efficacious treatments.
Not infrequently, nurses have saved lives through keen and vigilant watch over patients and reporting signs or symptoms of some critical developments to doctors such as respiratory failure, cardiac arrest and other critical patient conditions. In many cases, experienced nurses are known to have effectively and successfully saved the lives of patients at such critical moments when a physician is not forthcoming or absent by effectively performing necessary intervention tasks that should otherwise be performed by a doctor. Perhaps among the most important and admirable role of nurses is the emotional and psychological role they offer the patients at the hour of death which is the most critical moment of a person’s life. Again, this they do by virtue of their round-the-clock proximity and companionship with patients and in most cases, nurses are the nearest and often only human companion to offer last minute succor to the patient at this harrowing moment.
The same is true in moments of crisis in patient’s illness, particularly in the case of critical illnesses such as asthma, sickle cell, cancer, and other illnesses associated with sudden painful attacks. During these hurtful moments, it is the nurses, much more than doctors that provides immediate medical, physical, emotional and other forms of needed patient support and care. In terms of work schedule, nurses are frequently overworked due to the imponderable and often indefinable nature of their duties. Apart from the high number of patients a nurse has to oversee and care for, the nurse performs several other tasks including collection, labeling and sending of laboratory samples including urine and blood samples to and from the laboratory. In consideration of the foregoing, it is not surprising that nurses have been rated as equal, if not more important than doctors in health administration and not merely as people who serve and take directives from doctors. Little wonder also why one of the oldest and the most popular nurses in the world, Notes on Nursing, mentioned the role doctors relatively infrequently in the matter of patients care and support.
The pertinent question is how do the salary and other financial rewards of nurses reflect the very important and wide roles they perform in the health industry or compare with those of doctors?
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