By Shoshana Aronowitz

Recent public attention to police brutality, systemic racism and oppression has brought calls for changes to a policing structure that manifestly fails to promote community health and safety. These run the gamut from radical defunding and abolition to reformed models of policing, where officers partner with trusted mental health professionals like social workers or psychiatric nurses. Social worker Dr. Sheila Vakharia of the Drug Policy Alliance* argues that this approach will “exacerbate our profession’s already fraught role as agents of social control,” and “will not fundamentally change even one of the myriad harms inflicted.”

Nurses are members of another “helping profession” that is simultaneously undervalued and tasked with solving an overwhelming number of health and societal problems. They are also frequently used by the healthcare system as agents of surveillance and control.

Nurses who work in hospital settings spend more time with patients than most other clinicians providing direct care, and often build the strongest, most trusting relationships. In the intensive care unit, for example, close monitoring by nurses is vital to detecting changes in a patient’s condition that require immediate intervention.

While our advocacy on behalf of patients is often extremely beneficial for those whose needs may be overlooked by others on the healthcare team, our near-constant monitoring of patients—in both inpatient and outpatient settings—can also inadvertently hurt them.