January 16, 2023
Last week, my email inbox was flooded with headlines about a nursing strike taking place at two major NYC hospitals. E.g., from the New York Daily News, January 9:
Hospitals Struggle, severely short staffed, as 7K NYC nurses strike at Mt. Sinai, Montefiori: "There's no help. Can't do nothing."
More than 7000 nurses walked off the job early Monday at two major New York hospitals after contract talks disintegrated overnight, leaving Mt. Sinai in Manhattan and Montefiori Medical Center in the Bronx struggling to care for patients.
Though the strike has since ended, my thought when I read the headlines was: Here is a legitimate concern: For years, there has been a looming shortage of healthcare workers, and of nurses specifically. The linked article has a list of statistics, such as: 4.7 million nurses are expected to retire by 2030; 55% of current registered nurses are over the age of 50.
It is possible, maybe even likely, that the nursing union might exaggerate claims of a looming staffing shortage in order to strengthen its negotiating positions. However, I maintain that we have enough social indicators from Gen Z and Millenials – that is, people in the 20-45 age range – to wonder what might happen if there comes a time when there are not enough people willing to work in industries that require difficult physical labor or emotional hardship. If there are insufficient incentives for people to do that work, then our problems with strikes and shortages are just beginning.
The Left frequently proclaims that “Healthcare is a Human Right!” But that statement assumes conditions in which healthcare can take place: the innovations, technology, and personnel to administer advanced medicine. Beyond requiring that healthcare be “fully funded” by the government, and insisting patients not bear financial responsibility for their treatment, Leftists seem to take for granted that there will always be enough people willing to dedicate their lives to the service of others, while ignoring the complex incentive structures at play.
Nursing is not just “a job,” in the normal sense. “Just a job” is what I had when I worked for a law firm as a campus recruiter. One memory stands out from that era of my life: there were a few months of the year, during the on-campus interviews, when we worked long hours and never seemed to have enough time to get everything done. One day as I was buzzing about my desk, frantically trying to get folders organized for candidates that were about to walk in the door for their interviews, a partner at the firm saw I was struggling. He came over to me to reassure me. “Just remember,” he said, “no one’s life is at stake here. Your mistakes don’t really matter.”
On the other hand, during the nursing strike last week, many patients at Mount Sinai and Montefiore hospitals did not receive necessary medical procedures. The Daily News quotes Veronica Santos, who took her father to the emergency room, saying that he had not received a CT scan for a heart ailment because there was no one to administer it. Healthcare can’t be a “human right” when there is no one there to administer it.
That’s the thing about nursing: it’s uniquely immediate and purposeful work. It requires a belief in the value of serving the community, and a willingness to be present for some of life’s ugliest and most difficult moments. As those currently working in the industry start to retire, Millennials and Gen Z have given little indication that they are interested in taking their place – quite the opposite.
Far from being “tough” or able to handle difficulty, young people are afraid of hearing words they don’t like. They want “safe spaces” and trigger warnings. They have been known to accuse people of “violence” and “trauma” for “misgendering” them. The Washington Free Beacon reported in September that during a mandatory training, Harvard told its students that “using the wrong pronouns constitutes abuse.” If words have become violence, what will younger generations make of the real thing?
Millennials and Gen Z are also the first generations to have grown up with the internet. In the case of Gen Z, they’ve been carrying the internet in their pocket since elementary school. The Hill reports that 1 in 4 Gen Z’ers “Plan to become social media influencers.” They have seen their peers make millions by simply making TikTok videos of themselves dancing in the mirror. If that’s an option, who would choose long hours on their feet during a hospital shift, arms deep in human fluids?
This sums up my lack of faith that rising generations will be called to nursing: first, that they are accustomed to having a screen between themselves and reality; second, that there are a plethora of options for them to work cushy laptop jobs that pay six figures and don’t require any physical or emotional labor. There’s no blood, and no screaming – unless it’s to accuse someone of racism.
To be clear, I can’t disparage my fellow Millennials or our juniors, Gen Z, in this at all. I am also to blame. I am a working mom and I work at home full-time. I swear, I am not one of the Sarah/Elizabeth bots that comment on my dad’s blog about making 120/hr for online work. But, I share their desire to pursue my dreams from the comfort of the couch, while saving my mental and emotional energy for my family.
But I too would say, adamantly, that the world needs nurses, and if they want more money or more support, they should have it. But ? that seems to underscore the basic flaw in the younger generation’s worldview: with the infinite supply of government money, we can summon up an infinite supply of other people to do the work. Meanwhile, we’ll keep our cushy laptop jobs.
It is one thing to see what needs to happen, quite another to incentivize people to do it – especially when the work requires a sacrifice on someone else’s part. Those incentives might require a cultural shift: a return to the values of community and service. In our current political environment, young people seem to think that claiming something as an entitlement means someone will inevitably show up to do the work. Perhaps if nobody does, younger generations will be forced to realize that if they want healthcare to be a human right, then they might have to abide by that old saying: if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.