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Critical Care: Canadian Nurses Speak for Change

by André Picard

Critical Care is a fascinating look at what nurses do today. In it André Picard interviews 45 nurses working in different specialties all across Canada, allowing them to report from the front lines of the health care system. Young people considering nursing as a career will find the book invaluable as an aid in choosing just what specialty they should enter. Nurses themselves will find Picard’s admiration for their hard work encouraging.

But the book unfortunately falls short of what its subtitle promises. Things must change, nearly every nurse agrees. But neither Picard nor his subjects present a coherent idea of what sort of change the health care system needs. For example, Picard lets nurses air their frustration with long hours and job insecurity, but he doesn’t criticize health ministers who set the stage for emergency room crises by slashing hospital budgets without ensuring that adequate numbers of clinics and doctors’ offices are open during off-hours. He also skates around the hot issue of privatizing aspects of the health care system.

And Picard doesn’t give weight to the depth of nurses’ dissatisfaction by covering the way they recently have taken on provincial governments through legal and illegal job actions. The first mention of nurses on the picket line comes very late in the book, and even then, the fact that the public was largely supportive is glossed over.

These lapses are a pity. Picard has covered health affairs for The Globe and Mail for several years and is a good reporter. His earlier book, The Gift of Death: Confronting Canada’s Tainted Blood Tragedy, won the Science in Society Journalism Award and was shortlisted for two other prizes. This time out, Picard could have and should have written a much tougher book than Critical Care turns out to be.