The Shift

By Theresa Brown

"She's all alone here, I think. I'll have to take care of her." (76)

Throughout the book, Brown emphasizes the importance of nurses. She makes it very clear that she chose to be a nurse specifically. Nurses are not people who aren’t good enough to be doctors. Nurses do a lot, behind the scenes especially. Doctors operate on patients, but nurses run tests, administer medicines, and take care of patients and their families needs. Doctors don’t have time to get to know each of their patients, but nurses bond with their patients and help them emotionally; especially in a cancer ward such as the one Brown works in where the threat of death is looming over the patients. Nurses are essential, and without them and the work they do, hospitals wouldn’t be able to function as well as they do.
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"It's not dazzling clinical work, not the Sherlock Holmes of medicine in action, but then again most of modern health care doesn't consist of intense deduction followed by "Aha!" moments." (67)

Through her work in the hospital, Brown demonstrates the flaws in modern medicine and how patients are not saved because of miracles. In some cases, medicine and misdiagnosis can make the situation worse for patients. Drugs, like chemotherapy, can come with dangerous and painful side effects, sometimes even death. Other drugs, especially blood clotting or thinning medication, can end up postponing urgent surgeries, as they make it unsafe for doctors to operate until the medication has left the patient’s system. Imperfect drugs make it hard to care for patients and help them to recover, especially when it is not always know what is causing their symptoms. The patients who live to leave the hospital do so because of the hard work of their nurses and doctors, not dumb luck.
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As the world evolved, nurses and doctors did too. The Shift underlies the unequal hierarchy of nurses and doctors in the hospital setting. Brown, throughout her work encounters difficulty working around cocky doctors who perceive themselves as smarter than nurses. This belief was placed in the heads of doctors since the beginning of nursing, the Civil War.

The war that divided our country brought numerous more deaths and injuries than civilians predicted. With a trend of injuries occurring, women viewed this as their opportunity to contribute to the war effort. Women had a desire to protect their husbands and sons. In order to do so, women decided to join the war as nurses even though they knew of their social inequalities to the male soldiers. The Civil War marked the first time women would get involved with an armed conflict. As a result of a widespread belief of women’s inequality throughout society, the male doctors originally did not want nurses interfering with their care of the injured soldiers. Doctors did not want the socially unequal women working in the same demographic as themselves because they believed that the women would bother them or distract them from their work. In contrast to this, it was the doctors who annoyed the nurses as the doctors were often drunk and abusive to the nurses. Nurses also, were expected to obey doctors without questioning them. The women who recruited the nurses only accepted the women who they thought would behave appropriately around the male doctors and accept their unequal status.

While nurses at the time were volunteers and now nurses get paid, the social standards of nurses are still in existence. Brown uses her book to show that some nurses, wrongfully so, still believe that they are socially lower than male doctors. Because in the beginning of nursing, women nurses were held to the unequal social standards of the time, doctors believed that since they were male, their job was more important than that of the nurses. The jobs of the nurses were equal in importance to the doctors at the time of the Civil War as both professions sought to create a safer environment, however it was the perception of the sexist doctors that invoked the widespread belief of the inequality that exists between doctors and nurses. The desire of male dominance at the time of the Civil War is still reflected in today’s society as nurses are often seen as unimportant in comparison to doctors. Theresa Brown’s book was a way to disprove the unfair stereotype that was perceived on nurses from the time of the Civil War. She attempted to destroy the bigoted view of nurses that originally came from the sexism of our nation’s past. She encountered many instances where she was unjustly forced to prove her worth in an area where she was irreplaceable.


The following video shows the real importance of nurses in the hospital setting:

Theresa Brown's Website

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