What Might Nurse Jacintha Saldanha’s Suicide Reflect about Us? Support for Nurses?

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Surely, there is lots we don’t know about Nurse Saldanha’s state of mind when she took her own life in London earlier this month following a radio station prank.   Briefly, two DJs from an Austrailian radio show thought it would be funny and must have thought listeners would also find it funny to pose, via phone, as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles and trick a nurse into disclosing medical information about the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, who had been admitted with acute morning sickness. According to New York Times Reporter Sarah Lyall, in 12/7/12 article, Prank Call Seeking Royal Family Secrets Takes Horrifying Turn, “The call was broadcast on Australian radio; then it went out around the world”.

Very quickly, the whole world knew that Nurse Saldanha had believed the imposters and transferred the call to a colleague.  I wonder what is it about humiliating other people that is at all funny?  Is it a power  or dominating thing somehow? Have we lost a sense of compassion and crossed a line?

It seems sad and somehow related to cultures and mindsets where bullying is pervasive.   And also sadly, healthcare is notorious for bullying or disruptive behaviors among physicians and nurses. (Learn more about this issue in Journal of the Association of Physician Staff Recruiters, Spring 2010, article, Two Sides of Disruptive Behavior:  The How, Why, and What to Do, by Dr. Alan Rosenstein and Nurse Beth Boynton, pages 6-8).

I also couldn’t help but think how I could have just as easily been duped.  Not so much by the Royal Family impostors, (because I work in the USA), but by letting a call go through or providing information that is private to a caller or even visitor claiming to be family.  In the middle of my shift, what am I supposed to do, run a security check?  This frustrates me because I feel that as nurses we are often running around trying to provide safe compassionate care without support of enough staff or time and as such, we are ‘sitting ducks’ just waiting to be blamed for something.  It seems this nurse was just trying to do the most compassionate thing.

I offer sincere condolences to Nurse Saldanha’s family and friends.  I also ask healthcare leaders and consumers to learn more about the work we do and advocate for resources, (like staff, time, and counseling) that will help us to provide safe, quality, and compassionate care for our patients AND also remembering that we too are human beings with limits, needs, and value.

Reading this January 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal called, When Nurses Catch Compassion Fatigue, Patients Suffer, by Laura Landro is a great way to learn more about Compassion Fatigue and Solutions!

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3 Responses to What Might Nurse Jacintha Saldanha’s Suicide Reflect about Us? Support for Nurses?

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  2. Pat Iyer says:

    Great point, Beth, about how fear of being humiliated may have led to this nurse’s suicide. and how an innocent action could be broadcast around the world.

    • Thanks, Pat. Sometimes it feels like we have to make so many quick decisions/judgements that in hindsight may be easy to blame or humiliate…. sigh….
      Happy Holidays and keep me posted on the bullying workshop you are doing….we can post something here! Beth

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