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Exploring the 'real' face of American healthcare


Want the lowdown on the latest in nursing politics? Our student nurse Lorna McLean talks the talk.

When I was young, I was obsessed with American medical dramas.

It started with Chicago Hope. Then it was ER. I really loved ER. The drama and excitement made Casualty look dull - the stories and lives of the staff lacked the pace and intrigue of their trans-atlantic counterparts. Once I started my nursing course, I realised that real people’s lives are rarely fast-paced and full of tense drama and rather that nursing was a series of small moments - the ultimate act of ‘making the best of a bad situation’. I often wondered how American dramas seemed so far from the truth. Was it really different in the hospitals or had Hollywood just altered reality completely to suit its needs?

In 10 days time I am going to find out for myself. I’m off to the US for a 2 week placement-visit. Thanks to a rare opportunity created by hard-working and committed lecturers on both sides of the Atlantic, a colleague and I are going to explore rural paediatric services in North Carolina. The agenda is jam-packed, and we are going to explore the ‘real’ face of American healthcare.

As anyone who watched the Panorama special entitled ‘Poor America’ will know, healthcare in the USA is not all about the state-of-the-art hospitals and good-looking staff that appear on TV. Almost 50 million Americans are without health insurance, including almost 10% of children under 18. This means they are without access to anything but the most basic of care, and even that comes with a staggering fee. Some of the best hospitals in the world are there, with some of the most up-to-date equipment, yet it is out of reach for many.

The same social problems nurses often encounter here such as poverty, deprivation and substance abuse all still exist in the USA (one of the more harrowing moments of the Panorama programme was when a little girl told of the night her mother cooked a rat so they could eat dinner.) With so many social problems, combined with poor access to healthcare, needs are not being met.

So what does this mean for nursing? This is what we intend to find out. We want to know the reality of caring in a situation where money matters and where parts of society are cut off from the help nurses are able to offer. It is this that makes me fundamentally believe nursing is political. Not just pensions and working conditions, but in ensuring we are able to support all who need us. I’ll be back in a few weeks, ready to share all that I’ve seen.

Lorna McLean is a final year student studying child health nursing at Edinburgh Napier. Lorna has a MA (hons) degree in politics and international relations.


Readers' comments (2)

  • So, how did it go?

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  • Would love to hear how it all turned out. Where have you been? You promised to post it.


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