Naseema* loves being a nurse as “it is all about serving humanity”, but she gets upset sometimes when certain people treat her like a “low grade staff” or make sexual advances towards her.
She recalled how when she went to get a blood bag from a laboratory a few months back, the assistant over there tried to grab her hand. When she resisted, he taunted, “Why do you refuse me? You don’t mind holding hands of the patients you attend.”
She said nothing to anyone. “Nothing would have happened anyways.”
Naseema isn’t alone in her ordeal. Many of her colleagues have to face similar situations regularly. The incidence of sexual harassment is more during the graveyard shift, according to Naseema.
She has been working at a public hospital in Rawalpindi for the past five years now and is determined to not give up on her profession just yet. She does not let such incidents get to her. “The spirit to serve humanity gets tainted when such personal issues sneak in,” she told The Express Tribune.
May 12 is celebrated every year as International Nurses Day to highlight the contributions made by nurses to the society. They are considered to be the backbone of the health industry, but are seldom spared a second thought in Pakistan.
Sharjeel*, a male nurse at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, does not feel happy when patients, especially those coming from far-flung areas, refuse to acknowledge him. He added that most female patients and their attendants avoid getting treatments from them.
That said, he did acknowledge that male nurses do not face as many problems as their female counterparts.
Yasmeen Saggu, Nursing Director at Shifa International Hospital, said that nursing has failed to gain recognition and respect in Pakistani society. “I have been in this profession for more then 35 years but to date I do not see social acceptance of my work. It is still considered a low grade job mainly because of the mindset of the people,” she said.
People think that women from mediocre or lower middle class families join nursing. So many women who genuinely want to work as nurses are not allowed by their families to pursue their dreams, according to Saggu.
“However there are some improvements. Resources committed to educate such professionals have increased and there are some institutes that are even offering PhD degree in this field,” she added, stressing that the government needs to create more opportunities and incentives like foreign scholarships, trainings and better salary packages for nurses.
Talking to The Express Tribune, representatives of nurses from Holy Family Hospital, Benazir Bhutto Hospital and Polyclinic Hospital complained about the shortage of nursing staff.
“Sometimes we even have to substitute for ward boys or sweepers and change the dirty bed sheets and clean up the mess left by the patient,” said Samreen* from Holy Family Hospital.
Stellar Nazir, Nursing Advisor at Ministry of Health, blames the shortage of nurses on the low number of educational institutes for nurses in the country. There are just 162 colleges and schools for nurses registered with Pakistan Nursing Council. The schools that do exist are in an awful state. They do not have adequate funds, laboratories, equipment or qualified faculty members.
Another factor contributing to the shortage of nurses is because of the lack of prestige associated with the field, she said. Those parents that do enrol their daughters in nursing schools do so because they cannot afford to send them to universities. So instead they choose nursing schools, where instead of paying fees they receive a monthly stipend.
The current number of nurses in Pakistan, 54,987, is not even close to serving the population of the country adequately. At present one nurse tends to 30 beds at a time, which often increases to as many as 40, Nazir said. *Names have been changed on request
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2011.