Alby Mathew has a hectic day of patient-care and nursing ahead of her. The buzzer beeps almost non-stop as the 23-year-old nurse rushes from one patient to another. A quick chat about a patient-chart is the only pause she takes between seeing to patients.
Alby, who works at a private hospital in Delhi, says nursing was not her first choice. “As a student, I always dreamt of becoming a cardiologist but when I appeared for the medical entrance examination, the results totally disappointed me,” she says.
Private colleges were not an option because of the exorbitantly high fee they charge. Just when Alby was preparing to sit at home for a year, her sister, also a nurse, advised her to take up nursing. “Luckily, I got through a government college and completed my bachelors last year.”
“I have now warmed up to this profession,” she says with a wide smile.
Despite the long shifts and odd commuting hours, she finds her job quite fulfilling. “As a young person, I would get ecstatic whenever a patient insisted that only I insert the catheter or give them an injection.” She adds that her most memorable moments are those when her patients confide in her or turn to her for support.
But being a nurse comes with its own set of challenges.
“In many hospitals, nurses are still made to do errands and chores that don’t involve patient care. I have personally experienced situations when patients are downright disrespectful and even hurl derogatory words,” Alby explains.
As Alby and her colleagues meet for their break, the discussion moves to the many vulnerabilities the profession entails. “We are most prone to contracting infection from patients and yet nurses are not given a solid support-system,” says Pooja, one of Alby’s colleagues.
Over the years, nurses in several states have held protests to either demand an improvement in their abysmal pay or ask for their pending salaries to be paid. Some have also protests hospitals’ arbitrary termination of nurses from their payrolls.
Vaishali, a nurse at the same hospital, feels that the problem lies in the way nursing is perceived in India. “We are like the backbone of the healthcare industry and yet most of the time, the system works against us. From salary to incentives, nurses are never given their due,” she says. They feel that in some cases, the doctors also employ a high-handed approach with the nursing staff.
But there are other options available to nurses.
After an eight-hour long shift, Alby returns home to the hostel she shares with other nurses and settles down with her textbooks, meticulously takes notes. “I am preparing for the master’s entrance test so that I am able to teach in colleges. If I don’t teach, I will look for opportunities outside India where nurses are treated better,” she explains.
Ask her about what keeps her going, and she promptly replies, “At the end of the day, it’s a service that you are doing. For me, it’s not just a job; it’s about nursing people back to happiness and health.”
Image credit: V. Padmaja
V. Padmaja is a 23-year-old journalist, pursuing a masters in Journalism from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia. She can be reached on Twitter @PadmajaVraman.