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While Doing Laundry - Emily Edwards RN EPISODE 7, 12th May 2021
Pregnancy Discrimination in Nursing Education
00:00:00 00:47:45

Pregnancy Discrimination in Nursing Education

This week, I’m talking nursing culture: the good, the bad, and the difference it can make in your care. Specifically: the role of the nursing profession is to promote the health of women and newborns - but what about when the nurse is pregnant?

I am going to share with you my experience of being pregnant while being a nursing student in Canada.

  • I will read a paper that I wrote in my fourth year of university for a course called Current Trends and Issues in Nursing

I wrote a paper called “An Unwanted Pregnancy: the discrimination of child-bearing and rearing women in nursing education” 

Background: The role of the nursing profession promotes the health of women and newborns

  • The ideal of preservation of dignity amongst childbearing women is in stark contrast to the actual practice of nursing schools
  • The history of educating nurses is a rich with restrictions upon women and their sexuality
  • Horizontal violence is peer to peer harassment or violence
  • In this case, horizontal violence amongst nurses, including nursing instructors and nursing students, in the form of alienation and discrimination against childbearing nursing students
  • The CNO clearly outlines the role of a nursing leader within their professional standards document placing importance on role modeling for new nurses and instilling confidence in student abilities
  • Substantial information regarding policy and requirements for the treatment of pregnant women is available to nursing leaders
  • However, nursing leaders - those who are masters and doctorate prepared nurses in the administrative roles within nursing education programs - are the perpetrators of the discrimination
  • The peers of the affected students are negatively impacted because they witnessed the bullying, but they feel unable to advocate for injustices inflicted upon their peers because of the power imbalance between themselves and the administrative departments causing the stresses
  • Those power imbalances and those feelings of being unable to advocate for your peers do not disappear when you graduate
  • Like all nursing issues, patients are impacted by the conflict between other nurses
  • It is well documented that good patient outcomes are increased when nurses are experiencing low job related stress

Historical analysis: nursing's origin lies with Florence Nightingale, her dedication to the profession, cultivation of knowledge and immense impact on nursing education in the mid 1800s

  • Although some of her teachings are still important, some are certainly irrelevant today
  • During the time when Nightingale was practicing, being married was the only socially acceptable way to bear children
  • After marriage and children, nurses would not continue working, so there were no pregnant nurses or nursing students
  • As a celibate professional woman, Nightingale’s teachings explicitly opposed pursuit of both profession and family
  • Today, social attitudes towards childbearing have changed to incorporate equality among men and women but Nightingale's teaching still permeate current nursing education administration
  • As a result, there is no effort made to accommodate pregnant nursing students who will require support to maintain their full-time status
  • In the United States, there are institutional policies in place to outline pregnant students rights for administrative staff, educators, and students: the document states that students are entitled to protection from being forced to drop out, being excused from academic responsibilities, without penalty for pregnancy related reasons.
  • Workplace stress is documented to contribute to negative outcomes, such as preterm labor, low birth weight, and postpartum depression and university students already report  higher levels of stress than the general public
  • Efforts should be made by faculty to reduce or eliminate any additional sources of stress to promote a healthy pregnancy process
  • The profession of nursing can no longer afford to discriminate based on tradition
  • Pregnant people, regardless if they consider themselves a biological birth parent or an active mother, bring a unique quality to their practice that their peers can not

My personal battle began October 23rd, 2011 when I first contacted the nursing faculty department with my concerns regarding my due date and goal of graduating with my classmates in 2013

  • Their response gave me the impression that there would be a simple solution to accommodate my needs. I discovered there was no simple solution. 
  • Three months later, when after contacting the chairperson of the department with three well-thought-out solutions, I was refused
  • At that point, I chose to document all communications I had with any member of the faculty by pregnancy progression and my own mental health
  • Instead of supporting me to take a lighter workload, they required me to complete double the amount of work
  • No overtime or safer and lighter duties as suggested by the human rights commission best practices
  • I was given the ultimatum to accept the offer or risk placing myself a year behind in my studies.
  • In the end, I had a traumatic surgical birth
  • Postpartum depression quickly set in, impacted the bonding experience with my son, the relationship with my spouse and my view of myself as a mother, 
  • I often wonder what it would have been like if I had given myself time to relax physically, mentally, and emotionally, prior to my labor and delivery

What I experienced during my pregnancy as a nursing student at Brock University made one thing clear: I will not accept the tradition of horizontal violence as the norm within our profession

Did you have a similar experience? Share your story with me!

Send me an email here.

And make sure you are following on Instagram @thegoodbirthco.



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