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Confessions of a private hospital nurse

“Nurses are almost invisible in hospitals. We too have names and designations, but everyone calls us ‘Sister’”
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I am from Kerala. Most nurses in Indian hospitals are from my state. A network exists and we rely on various channels of friends and relatives to get jobs in India and abroad. It’s mostly women who opt for this profession. It gives us the opportunity of a better life. Many nurses go to countries as far as in Africa. My sister works in Mali.

I would like to change jobs soon. I am trying to go abroad too. Our pay here is very low. It is nearly one-fifth of the salaries of nurses working in government hospitals. Every now and then, you will read about nurses on strike demanding a hike in their salaries. It is not only about the pay, our working conditions too are very bad.

In a private nursing home, a nurse sometimes has to work up to 16-17 hours. They don’t hire enough nurses to fill in the shifts and the laws are so skewed that we often cannot have unions in an organised way to demand our rights. There is no concept of sick leave or casual leave as we are hired on contracts. Some nursing homes make us pay for our uniforms.

Many hospitals also keep our documents, making it difficult for nurses to leave. I am in touch with an agent to get me a job in the Gulf. These agents keep a tab on job options through a network of agents in other countries. One has to be a little careful with them, though, as one could land in a situation worse than the previous job. I have several relatives in the Gulf, so I am keen to work there.

Nurses are almost invisible in hospitals.

Doctors and specialists visit wards at fixed times and have names and designations. We too have names and designations, but everyone calls us ‘Sister’. One has to be extremely patient and tolerant in this profession, but we are all human. I have been rude to my patients once in a while, but it was not deliberate.

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(In her mid-20s, she has been in the profession for five years and  works in a private hospital in Delhi) 

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As told to Aanchal Bansal