Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Doctor/Nurse (11/02/06)
TITLE: When does a nurse become a doctor?
By Margaret Watson
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When I started out it was easy to see which was which. The doctors wore long white coats, smart suits and , if they were senior enough, smoked a pipe. Nurses on the other hand wore blue dresses, stiff belts lots of starched cotton and silly little caps that when we first started were held in place by half a dozen hair pins – you soon learned to manage with just one or two.
Our roles were just as defined. Doctors ordered the drugs and did all the exciting bits. Nurses gave out medicines, teas and bedpans and did all the bits the doctors considered beneath them – including the heavy work.
I completed my training as a nurse – got a fancy cap with a lacy trim and a silver buckle, but nothing much changed.
Then I trained as a midwife and became legally a practitioner in my own right. A midwife has autonomy until she decides to call in a doctor – and then she often goes back to stage one.
Later I moved to a hospital that had a much more sensible view – if you were capable – as most nurses are, you could do minor operations, put back dislocated limbs and all sorts. We were becoming a team.
Then I moved to Pakistan. Not to some big city hospital, but to a small clinic. A few old instruments in the cupboard and a sterilizer that we boiled over charcoal. We could get drugs, but we couldn't get anaestetics. No x-ray machine and if we wanted lab tests we did them ourselves – checking the results with a text book meant for central Africa. A doctor's full training would have been wasted here. He simply wouldn't be able to do the things he knew were needed. Not that that mattered because we didn't have a doctor. We were it. My collegue had trained like me in the traditional way where nurses were more or less handmaids. She hadn't even done the midwifery training that I had – but was great with burns. So every morning we saw up to 70 patients and every afternoon was either spent in the laboratory or in some village street conducting a clinic with the whole neighbourhood listening in. And do you know, despite the odds stacked against us, we actually made a difference. Not in every case, but there was a big hospital in the city to which we could refer cases – if only they would go.
The patients trusted us with their lives. Now I know how a doctor feels.
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