Earth to Paul Krugman

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Paul Krugman needs a clear message of the value of nursing.

Recently, the Nobel Prize-winning economist showed a stunning lack of knowledge of both nursing and the labor market in a New York Times blog entry titled “Maid in America.” The first gaffe is far too familiar, as nurses are often dismissed, like Krugman does, as “menial” or “manual” workers. Oh, we do hard work, believe me, and some of it can be repetitive. But seeing the contributions of doctorally prepared nurse leaders and researchers, of nurse practitioners providing services once handled only by physicians, of the most highly trained bedside nurses making decisions that save lives every day, Krugman’s cluelessness undermines an understanding of the value and importance of nursing. Sure, many of us nurses are women, which makes these assertions even more disappointing. Being with individuals at times such as birth and death can be messy but intensely human, and the intimacy of these encounters is the honor and privilege of being a nurse.

Krugman later apologized, as he should have.

EXCERPT: “I argued then that menial work dealing with the physical world—gardeners, maids, nurses—would survive even as quite a few jobs that used to require college disappeared.”

Krugman evinced surprise about the emails that flooded his inbox over the slight. Get used to it.

Here we must be less out-of-touch than he was: Menial workers, or those in jobs thought to not require much skill or training, are essential to the economy—health care included—and to the standards of living that we take for granted as Americans. Manual laborers, those whose work is physically taxing, play just as key a role. And these jobs feed families and may offer the chance for a better life. Labeling asserts individuals’ value judgements—not the measure of the value of an individual.

Nurses who make breakthroughs on pain management, substance abuse, cancer, dementia care, patient safety, public health, and in so many other areas deserve a different label.

When was the last time you heard a physician called a menial laborer, in spite of that group’s involvement in providing physical care?

But that’s how it has gone, way too often. Nurses are in far too short supply. Demeaning the profession hurts our efforts to keep recruiting the best and brightest minds to the field. It hurts the health of America, period.

So we as an industry are going to keep building the best caregivers the world has ever seen, the nurses you’d want treating your loved ones. And we’re going to raise our voices. Maybe someday everyone will notice—not just the thousands and thousands of people whose lives we touch every day.

Until then, Paul Krugman, you’ve got mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: PATRICIA M. DAVIDSON

trish_blog-shotPatricia M. Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, is dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and a fellow of the Australian College of Nursing, the American Heart Association, the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, and the American Academy of Nursing. She is counsel general of the International Council on Women’s Health Issues and actively involved in the international activities of Sigma Theta Tau International. Follow her on Twitter (@nursingdean).

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