BEIRUT: The newly elected president of the Lebanese Order of Nurses called for greater institutional involvement for nurses in the medical community as the Order continues work to raise the profile of the nursing profession in Lebanon.
“Nurses need to be involved in decision making at a very high level because otherwise medical institutions will lose out,” Helen Samaha Nuwayhed told The Daily Star in an interview, calling the nursing profession the “backbone of hospitals, providing a safety net for patients, doctors and administrators.”
She was recently elected to serve as president of the Order, which represents over 10,000 registered Lebanese nurses as of June 2012, with more than 86 percent concentrated in hospitals.
“If you don’t invest in the working conditions of nurses then you’re going to lose the best nurses and this is going to impact patient care. We are trying to make that link. Nurses’ work conditions are not a luxury. There is not only a vested interest for nurses, but also a vested interest for the community to take care of them,” Nuwayhed explained, adding that some hospitals and medical institutions have made greater strides toward meeting the demands of nurses but there is a long way to go before the nursing profession commands the same respect as doctors and hospital administrators.
In the last few years, the order has actively pushed to raise the quality of life and improve work conditions for nurses – setting recommended pay scales and recently establishing a pension plan through the Order – as well as to promote the profession and raise the level of respect for nurses among other medical practitioners through an awareness campaign established last year.
Having just taken the helm of the Order, Nuwayhed is beginning to hold focus groups with members from all segments of the nursing community to ascertain their complaints. She said these generally included salary issues, job security and working conditions such as shift hours, high ratios of patients to nurses and lack of support or respect from medical institutions.
“Nurses want a good salary with retention plans. They want career ladders so they know that you cannot just drop us at any time. These should be instituted and not up to the whims of the employer,” she added.
Ruling out striking as an option for raising the demands of nurses as “a last resort,” Nuwayhed plans to continue with awareness campaigns to raise respect for the profession but also wants to implement mentorship programs for young nurses and focus on raising the caliber of the field toward “full-fledged professionalism.”
“You have all these young graduates who graduate but meet a lot of issues on the way, so we tend to lose some of them ... we need them to keep the profession viable and we need to get the seasoned nurses to help,” she said.
While the Order has previously and frequently raised the specter of a shortage of nurses in Lebanon as more experienced nurses seek out better salaries abroad, Nuwayhed believes that a shortage is not imminent, but that efforts must focus on recruiting and retaining young nurses if the county is to avoid scarcity in the field.
For retaining nurses there is a crucial period “between the time of graduation up to one year,” when they are susceptible to dropping out of the profession for lack of mentorship, “or if they are not well-supported ... or if there are not good enough working conditions.”
Part of the problem is a lack of preparation, Nuwayhed added. To increase the professionalism in the field, the Order is pushing for entry level nurses to obtain a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing rather than enter the field with just a lower accreditation, such as a Technical Baccalaureate or Superior Technician degree.
Nuwayhed called for government support for “bridge programs” that would allow young nurses to obtain a BSN, yet acknowledged that “at the national level there’s not much money or energy to invest in these programs.”
The nearer priority for the Order is to ensure that all nurses in in the country are registered and become actively involved in a dialogue about the future of the profession.
While officially membership is mandatory, Nuwayhed estimated that only about half of Lebanon’s nurses were actually registered, which posed a major challenge for the organization if it was going to represent the needs of the nursing community. Unregistered nurses often cite inability to pay the backlog of annual fees (LL100,000 per year) as a reason for failing to register, so the order has introduced a plan to help them pay over time.