My name is Jalil Johnson. I am a nurse. Outside of my family life, I am not so important. However, the work I do and the work we do as nurses is very important. In fact, without nursing (CNAs, LPNs, RNs, APRNs) the healthcare industry would literally crumble. All nurses know this. Everyone who works in healthcare or a health related field knows this.

There is overwhelming evidence that safe staffing negativity impacts patient outcomes, nursing care, and nursing staff (there are too many articles to include. Google unsafe staffing). This is no secret. Regardless of which side of healthcare we fall on (consumer or practitioner), and regardless of our level of nursing practice, unsafe staffing will affect us all at some point. This is our reality as healthcare providers and consumers. So, why is it, with an active work force of >3million registered nurses, >800 thousand LPNs, >1.5 million CNAs, and a long list (SERIOUSLY, LOOK AT THIS LIST list of professional nursing organizations working on the problem, we haven’t been able to get federal regulation for safe staffing? Are we afraid of lobbyists who buy our elected officials and time and again prevent this legislation from getting passed? We are nurses! We deal with life, death and body fluids. Lobbyists don’t scare us!

Are we unaware of the problem? We are nurses! We practice in care settings spanning from intensive care units to outpatient settings to home health, and all in between. We know the upstream and downstream affects of unsafe staffing. This is not the issue.

If safe staffing legislation is an overarching problem affecting healthcare and nursing, why can’t we unite to get safe staffing legislation passed? I’ll tell you why. It has nothing to do with the facts or the safe staffing problem. Our inability to unite around this issue is ingrained and entrenched in our professional culture. We want to fix the obvious problems. Yet, we can’t see our dysfunction despite the repeated gut punches it gives us every time we try to fight against it.

Slow growing and ever present. It is the malignant separatism within our professional culture that is the problem. It is planted within us early in our career as students. Grown and fed as new nurses. Maturing as seasoned professionals and finally harvested to be replanted as nurse leaders. You see, there is always an “us” vs “them”. These are the age old divisive arguments -RN vs LPN, ADN vs BSN, NP vs DNP, DNP vs PhD, staff vs management, new nurses vs experienced nurses etc. These ideas are fossils, yet we cradle and feed them like precious infants.

You see, when it comes to unity, we are the problem and the solution to the problem. Our profession is plagued with larger than life egos and self-righteousness. We have a bazillion professional organizations (here’s that list again and unions, all self-serving and grasping, clawing and contending with each other. All with their own version of exclusivity, vying for a validity and a reason to be needed. None putting their money where their mouth is and actually bringing ALL nurses together (to be fair they don’t all share the same mission and goals). Imagine what the World would look like today if the civil rights movement of the 1960s was as fragmented as the nursing profession is today, but I digress.

Perhaps we are too set in our ways to change the way we’ve conducted our business. Maybe we continue on, business as usual, not creating any real change. All working in our little silos and feeling self important. Maybe the next generation of nurses will figure out how to stand together and rally a work force of 5.3 million people to create change.

While we ponder that grim idea, know that there are millions of nurses around the U.S. who want to make change. They are ready. They work in silos, diligently banging their heads against the wall while their leaders cheer them on.

This doesn’t have to be our reality or our future. Imagine this. All of the professional organizations uniting on one call for one cause that affects our entire profession. Imagine if over 5 million people around the U.S. demanded that their local, state and federal government use scientific evidence to make decisions about safe staffing legislation. Imagine that.

Jalil A. Johnson RN, MS, ANP-BC

National Director- Show Me Your Stethoscope Foundation