BEIRUT: “On my first week, eight patients had a cardiac arrest, and three of them died,” remembers Hicham Bawadi, who started working as a nurse at the American University of Beirut Medical Center seven years ago.“
It was a shock, like ‘this is the career I chose?” he smiles.
Bawadi didn’t always dream of becoming a nurse. When he entered AUB in 2004, he was planning to pursue a career in civil engineering. The following semester, and as a campaign of awareness to promote nursing was taking place at his university, he learned about a profession he didn’t know much about.
“I heard about the job, the opportunities for the future and the chances to progress … it caught me. So I went for three years of studying and then later did a master’s.”
He admits that at first, things weren’t easy, when he had to get used to dealing with patients who were bleeding or suffering from fractures, and the very particular work environment.
“You don’t see the sunlight, it’s a totally closed area and you’re under pressure for eight hours per day and sometimes more. You have to work on yourself to adapt to the stress.”
“It’s a very demanding job,” he continues, explaining that being a nurse means always having to be “on the front line.”
“You have to be there and support the patient, tell him why a procedure was postponed when it had nothing to do with you. You’re the person [patients] will blame.”
But to him, there is a priceless compensation for that.
“The advantage of nursing is the gratitude you get. You see how your work directly affects the patients.”
“How the patients thank you, how they appreciate your work. This is the main reason to continue. Other than that you have a million reasons to quit,” he laughs.
“Having a life” is probably on top of the list of these million reasons to quit, as a nurse’s schedule makes it difficult to organize a social life outside the hospital.
“Today you have a day duty, tomorrow you have an evening, the day after you have a night,” he says.
“You might have a plan to go to the beach but then you have a night duty the day before so you finish at 8 a.m. and then you go there being all drowsy,” he laughs.
Bawadi is from the Chouf and lives alone in Beirut. He says he had to get used to spending a lot of time by himself, as not many people shared his hectic schedule.
“I’m a single guy living in Beirut. I’m not from here originally so my family is away. When I’m on evening duty I have nobody to stay with in the morning,” he says, admitting that this lifestyle makes it difficult for him to stay in contact with people outside his workplace.
“I’d say 90 percent of my friends work with me,” he acknowledges.
Eight months ago, Bawadi’s situation changed slightly as he became a nurse manager.
He describes one of the advantages of his new position as being on a special schedule made of day shifts and fixed weekends.
“It makes you feel like a human being again,” he laughs.
Bawadi, who turns 29 in October, admits he’s indeed still very young to be a manager.
“I was lucky and was promoted after six years. But I worked hard, I did my master’s very quickly and I was very much involved in the university,” says Bawadi, who, apart from working 40 hours a week at the hospital also teaches at the Lebanese American University “for my CV.”
“I like responsibilities, that’s why I pushed myself forward,” says Bawadi, who was recently elected a council member of the nurses’ union.
His work at the union has exposed him to a broader picture of the state of his profession in the country.
Bawadi knows he’s lucky to be employed at AUBMC.
“Being a nurse in AUB is totally different than being a nurse in Bahman or Sahel,” he believes, saying there is a “great discrepancy” between hospitals like AUB or Hotel Dieu and others in remote areas.
“I had the chance to come to Beirut and to learn at AUB but others don’t, and have to work in a hospital nearby, get paid very low [salaries] and work at very high risks just to [provide for] their families.”
At AUB, the average nurse’s salary is $800 a month, Bawadi says, adding that nationwide, the salaries can range from $500 up to $2,000 “in good places and if you come with experience.”
With the low salaries, the hectic schedule, the poor work environment in certain hospitals, and the view of nurses as no more than “the doctor’s assistant,” Bawadi acknowledges his profession is challenging.
But he argues that all jobs have their pros and cons, and believes that “if you have the passion for this profession, you will disregard the negative sides and focus on what’s positive.”