February 17, 2007, 12:53 pm

Why, In Dem Ol’ Days We Walked To Work in the Snow and We LIKED IT!


Meet Miss Eunice Lenz, Director of Nursing Service.

She is so professional that when she has a disagreement with a doctor, she takes them up to the roof to yell at them.

I know I want the Chicago skyline in the backdrop when I yell at a doctor!

Obviously it’s her day off because she’s in street clothes.

Now that’s what I call a professional!

(Oh, by the way, at the top of the payscale on the day shift, a full-time RN at this time in this hospital was making $2.68 per hour. What was minimum wage, negative 75 cents?)


It had been a rough night and I had a pile of charts to finish.

Being the social animal that I am, I retired to the break room to write so as not to be tempted into conversation.

Presently the night supervisor came in for a cup of coffee and sat down at the table.

Rough night for her, too. She had five sick calls to fill and no one had called her back.

We started talking about “the old days”. She’s been a nurse a little longer than I, but not much.

We remember the “old days”.


In the old days, you didn’t worry about claiming overtime if it took an extra fifteen minutes to finish your shift because you knew that on the days when it was quiet you could leave twenty minutes early.

If you had a chance to eat something, even if it was only for fifteen minutes, you didn’t mind. It balanced out the nights where we’d put on a full pot luck dinner in the lounge and munch all night. Coffee breaks? There were times we wouldn’t have known a coffee break if it came up and bit us on the butt.

Then again, there were shifts with low census where you could sit with the paper or watch a TV show with a patient.

If there were nights when you had to “take one for the team” you did it without bitching.

In the old days, you didn’t play “tit-for-tat”. You were all a part of the team. You felt as though you were the facility. You worked until the work was done and when you took advantage of the quieter times, the administration didn’t mind.

And you sure as hell didn’t punch a clock.


Fast forward to today.

Instead of documenting their hours on paper, nurses punch a clock, at least in my facility.

Professionals do not punch a clock. Never met a doctor who did. I know lawyers don’t. In fact, I don’t think police officers, paramedics or firefighters punch a clock. I’ll go as far to say that I’m pretty sure my garbage collectors don’t punch a clock.

We are required to take a lunch, by law, and we are paid penalty pay if we don’t get one. Breaks, too. This sounds like a good thing on the surface.

But…we are not allowed to punch in early, even if we happen to get to the unit ten minutes before the shift. And we can’t punch out early without our pay getting docked. Even if there are no patients in the department.

When we go on our meal breaks we have to take a timer because if we take longer than 30 minutes, the pay gets docked.

So now you have a scene that makes my blood boil every time I see it.

Nurses standing around a time clock waiting for the exact minute when they can punch out – a group of professional men and women standing at the mercy of a machine in order to get their pay.

The result of this mechanization? This subtle “deprofessionalization” of nursing?

A different attitude..

No more “taking one for the team”. No more sense of “oneness” with the facility.

If I work ten minutes over the end of my shift, I will damn well get paid for it.

I used to write it off as helping out the next shift.

Nights where I don’t quite get dinner, the ones that used to be chalked up to the nature of the profession?

No more. I don’t eat, I will damn well get paid for it.

I used to write it off as par for the course on a busy night.

I would love to see how much more money the facility is paying in penalties and overtime now that the nurses are forced to punch a clock.

It’s not just my facility, by the way. I see this whenever and wherever nurses are “punching” in and out.

What these hospitals have gained in expediting their payroll, they have lost in the sense of “oneness” nurses used to feel with their hospital.

And my facility is the Taj Mahal of hospitals!

I can’t even imagine what it’s like in lesser facilities.


Speaking of quiet times, when the census was down….

In the old days the staff showed up every day as usual. If it was slow, someone might have to float.

That was never fun, but we took turns and I’d always volunteer if it was the OB/GYN floor. (In the old days, the babies were on one side and the gyn surgeries on the other side of the wing.)

Even better was that you could take an “EA” day – excused absence and actually take a day off! If you wanted to get paid, you took a vacation day and if you didn’t, no big deal. We took turns with those, too!

On the floors, if the census was down, you’d actually have less patients per nurse and more time to spend with each one of them.

Today, if the census drops you are either canceled (if you are a per diem) or you are sent home in the middle of the shift.

Yes, we have nurse/patient ratios here in California, but instead of ever being able to have an easy night on the floors/telemetry when the census is down, they simply drop the number of nurses to the exact ratio required.

I’m an ER nurse. We admit patients 24/7. In the old days, you staffed for potential admissions. You know, left a little leeway just in case.

Not today.


I’m actually going to work in an hour; someone called in sick and I’m covering a few hours.

You could call it taking one for the team, but I will be paid handsomely for coming in on a day off and on a weekend, too.

But something tells me I should be signing my charts as “T. Rex, RN”.

Because even though they weren’t perfect,

I miss the old days.


  • A Bohemian Road Nurse...

    February 17, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    What kills me is how polite everything is in nursing school these days. In “my day” the nursing instructors were meaner than rattlesnakes!

  • #1 Dinosaur

    February 17, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    I trust I’ll be seeing this in my email next week.

  • S. R.

    February 18, 2007 at 8:24 am

    Some of the instructors in nursing school are still mean. Old nurses with licenses earned in the 50’s and 60’s.

    That ad above offering 300-400/mo nursing salary appears to have been offered before ZIP codes. Inflation?

  • justcallmejo

    February 18, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Before I was a nurse, I was in another profession. I set my hours, I worked my butt off.

    When I came to nursing and had to use a timeclock, I felt like I was back bussing tables when I was 15. I think that was the last time I had to use a timeclock.

  • Dawn

    February 18, 2007 at 9:02 am

    I’m with jo – I just completed my first week of orientation, and felt like I was in a herd of cattle waiting to punch out at the end of our class! I’ve had to punch in and out before (when I was in college, and working at a Wendys as the salad bar person one summer), but the boss didn’t bitch if I punched out 10 minutes after the end of my shift, since I was actually working during those 10 minutes. This is my second profession, and when I worked in marketing and sales, I ended up working weekends and evening/nights (since pro sports doesn’t end at 5pm most days), and worked my butt off as well.

    It’s degrading and inhuman to expect professional nurses to stand around for those precious 3 minutes before and after the magic “30 after the hour” shift change hits to punch out. Like you said Kim, I know the docs/hospital pres aren’t punching a clock.


    February 18, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Kim you are on the money as usual! I remember the old days too, when you came in for a staff meeting because you were interested and engaged and didn’t want to miss anything important and you weren’t paid to come in. Same thing for committee service. Now we have to have several different meetings just to catch every one on duty and then you have to rely on minutes to hope everyone gets the info. Doesn’t do much for team work. As a manager I don’t punch a clock so I can essentially set my own schedule. Now I know that in order to run an efficient department you can’t have everyone arriving when they feel like it but I don’t think I’m any more or less responsible or professional than the average staff nurse. So why do they have to punch a clock and I don’t? I encourage everyone to go home when they have finished but luckily our system does not dock them if they stay too late but it will if they punch out early. And as to “flexing” staff, I hate it, but we have pressure to do so. The minute you send someone home, the stuff hits the fan and now you are stretched too thin. Thanks for the post.

  • Janet

    February 18, 2007 at 10:20 am

    I recently was lectured about working 3 hours overtime in a 2 week payperiod. Never mind that I did all the admissions and my boss wasn’t around to help because she left early to “take back” some of her “overtime”. She is salaried. I’m paid by the hour.

  • ERnursey

    February 18, 2007 at 10:21 am

    At my facility the result of staffing the floors to the ratios without any room for leeway is that the ER ends up holding patients until the next shift even though there is an empty bed.
    We get in trouble if we leave early which is idiotic, I can usually give report and be done by 15 minutes after, how much money could they be saving by letting us leave then?

  • S. R.

    February 18, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    People leave early when they know the bosses wont be around. Otherwise, theu just wait around in the breakroom chit chatting until 0724 (when we can actually leave work).

  • Nancy

    February 18, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    It’s the same everywhere in the hospital. I’m not in patient care, but in a job that USED to be salaried. Now I get lectured if I’ve got 15 minutes of OT in a two-week pay period. And I, too, stand around waiting for that damn clock to turn to the magic minute to punch in/out.

    I hate it.

  • TC

    February 18, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    As usual Kim, you are the voice of perspective. In my school, during our nursing ethics course, we talked about the problem nursing has being a “blue-collar profession”. Part of the reason I like my current job is that we’re expected to behave like adults. If it’s busy, we work our butts off, and if it’s not, no one’s expected to do busy work just because.

  • Derrick

    February 20, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    The thing that drives me crazy about the ratios in California is the fact that they will close beds and leave patients in the waiting room if there is not adequate staffing. It just makes no sense to have a physical bed sitting empty while a sick patient sits in the waiting room.

    The other game I love is when they board 4 ICU patients in the ED because the ED staffing ratio is 1:4 when the ICU is 1:2.

    Ratios – a great idea with a bunch of downsides.

  • N=1

    February 21, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Ki m:

    Hope you don’t mind, but I linked this post to one I did about loyalty as a factor in nurses working under extended quarantine mandates in the event of a national flu pandemic.

    I also got “creative” – well, for me, anyway, and there’s another post asking for nurses’ and physicians’ plans on what they would decide to do when that happens. If you’re interested, click on over and offer your opinion.

    As always, your posts are thought-provoking (well, sometimes, they just provoke – like in this case of time-clock madness).

  • Marshall P. Gavin

    May 23, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I had the distinct pleasure of working in administration with Eunice Lenz at St. Anne Hospital in the early 70’s. I remember her well as a professional’s professional.

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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