They probably do one of the most noble jobs, but for a pittance. On World Nursing Day, the nursing community in the City talks about long hours of work, bad pay and difficult conditions they face every single day
They spend their days caring for the ill, comforting worried families, gently coaxing their patients to have their medicines, sponge bathe them, stay up at odd hours taking care of their needs and still wear a bright smile all through. Nursing is unarguably the backbone of our health care industry. But with high attrition rates, there seems to be a perpetual shortage of nursing staff in most hospitals, putting tremendous pressure on the existing nurses. To top it all off, are the long hours at work, ill treatment and terrible pay.
On an average nurses are expected to work in six hour shifts. But given the shortage of staff, most are forced to work double or triple shifts, unless it is a top corporate hospital where the rosters are slightly better organised. According to one nurse in the City, the ideal nurse patient ratio should be 1:4, but the existing ratio stands at 1:7 or more. But the worst is faced by nurses assigned duty at emergency wards. Considering it is the one ward that sees a huge influx of patients, there are just a couple of nurses shouldering the entire work load — especially on weekends when there are a higher number of accidents and emergency cases.
“The stress of the job is very high and there is no room for mistakes. But given how short-staffed we are and the other limitations, some things are just not in our control. Things are worse around the financial year end when a lot of nurses quit their posts and the additional pressure falls on us who stick on. Despite these factors, we are at the receiving end from the management and patients and are often admonished in public,” says Mariam P, a nurse at a leading corporate hospital. For Mariam, nursing was her chosen field partly due to interest and partly due to peer pressure.
Most women who take up nursing as a profession are driven by the service aspect of the industry. But the reality can be a rude wake up call for many. Take for instance, the meagre salaries most of them are paid. When Sandhya Joseph decided to take up nursing it was purely out of her desire to help people. “After my nursing course I was offered a job at a prominent hospital in the City for a salary of Rs.4,000 per month. But to my shock when I got here they told me that since I was an intern I would be paid Rs.1,500 only. What’s worse, after all the mess fee deductions all I got in hand was Rs.750. This went on for a couple of months, till we threatened to resign. Finally, the management intervened and revised our salaries to `4,000. Now after four years my CTC is `8,700 and take home is `6,600,” she says. In fact, currently, this particular hospital located in Secunderabad is on the verge of a strike by the nurses for similar reasons.
Despite the pittance they are paid, nurses are expected to work long hours and even put up with fussy patients and rude attendants. If the hospital they work at provides hostel facility then life is easier for these nurses. For those assigned duty at ICUs the perks are slightly better, but the job is even more demanding. For instance, women nurses find it challenging to handle male patients; be it sponge bathing them or transferring them onto another bed.
What’s worse is that the meagre salaries that these nurses get paid barely cover their expenses. “We take student loans to pay our nursing course fees which could cost around `4 lakh. But given that we start off with as less as `5,000 at top corporate hospitals (the pay is even less in smaller healthcare institutes), this salary barely covers the monthly interest that we have to pay,” says Anuradha K, who joined a prominent corporate hospital in Jubilee Hills a month back. She adds, “None of this even covers the poor staff treatment that we are meted with.”
The one thing that keeps these nurses going is the prospect of going abroad where there is a huge demand for nurses. It’s this reason alone that keeps them from aggressively voicing out their concerns either in public or to the hospital managements. “We have little choice. The grievance redressal system in these hospitals is very poor. If we are too vocal about the problems we face, we risk getting unsatisfactory codes of conducts, which is extremely important if we want to apply for a job abroad. Besides, there is very little respect for our profession in the society,” says Mariam.
Despite the numerous challenges these nurses face, they continue to render services to their patients with a smile on their face. In fact, the bonds that they form with their patients turn out to be lasting ones at times. “I’ve had patients who continue to remain in touch with us even years after they’ve been cured and are back to their normal routine. It is gratifying to see them pick up where they left off in life. There are occasional heartbreaks too when we lose a patient, but for the most part the job is satisfying to a large extent,” smiles Annie M, who works at a nursing home in the City. with inputs from Arun Koshy Philip (All names of nurses have been changed to protect identity)