Skip To Content

    Here's Why Australian Healthcare Workers Want You To Stop Calling Them "Heroes"

    "If we call them heroes, then we don’t have to pay them more — because heroes do it out of altruism, right?"

    After living out a relatively "normal" year in 2020, Australians are now experiencing the true, harsh reality of COVID-19 — with New South Wales surpassing the two month mark of lockdown and states around the country struggling to contain the highly-infectious Delta variant.

    Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images

    On Monday, August 30, NSW reported 1290 new cases — the highest number ever recorded in an Australian state in a single day.

    Hospitals are bearing the brunt of the consequences, with hundreds of Aussies being admitted to wards around the state — and NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has predicted that "October is likely to be our worst month in terms of pressure on the system."

    Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images

    In Monday's press conference, Berejiklian said: "Our hospital system is under pressure. Will we need to do things differently? Of course, we will. We will need to manage things differently because we are in the middle of a pandemic, but we will cope...The health system is prepared, but will it stretch? Absolutely."

    Early studies on Australian healthcare workers have revealed that staff are showing significant symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD in the face of the COVID-crisis — and so Aussies are calling for the government to quit labelling medical staff simply as "heroes" in lieu of addressing long-overdue pay rises.

    Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images

    Last year, the NSW Government froze the pay of all public servants for at least 12 months during the pandemic — a move that was swiftly labelled as "diabolical and disgraceful." 

    In a Reddit thread, user u/CrashCourseHEMA asked Australians: "Don't call them heroes. When this is all over, should nurses get pay rises?"

    Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    They said: "I have friends and family who are in nursing and let me put it this way, I'd absolutely warn off any person off studying to be a nurse. What do you think? Should nurses get significant pay rises, or at least massive benefits after this? Should all medical ancillary staff?

    I think that if it wasn't to happen, I'd support a mass nurse resignation. Or are we so selfish as a country to expect them to continue simply because 'it's their job/calling'?"

    The Australian public and medical frontline workers were quick to respond, with many calling out the toxicity of "hero culture" and supporting the need for better support and compensation in Aussie hospitals:

    "As a nurse, I resent being called a hero — it implies that we don't have the same needs as 'mortals'. Nurses are paid fairly well with penalty rates and that is because we are professionals, with years of training and high intensity, complex roles. But our regular pay rates in no way mean we should not be appropriately compensated for the additional workload, complexity, responsibility and stress of our job in this pandemic."

    Boston Globe / Boston Globe via Getty Images

    "Oh and I should mention the risk to ourselves and families. In any other profession, this wouldn't even be a question — but rather than fair compensation, we get called 'heroes' and given a pay freeze instead.

    To anyone that thinks we don't deserve a pay rise, please go tell a nurse in person. Please go have a conversation and get a better understanding of what this pandemic is doing to the individuals tasked with keeping the public alive."

    —u/Landash

    "If we call them heroes, then we don’t have to pay them more. Heroes do it out of altruism, right? I mean, do Superman or Spiderman think about salary sacrificing into super?"

    —u/LocalVillageIdiot

    "I'm expecting in September, when the hospitals are in mega meltdown, [Gladys Berejiklian] is going to pull a Boris Johnson and ask everyone to clap for hospital staff at the end of their driveway. In NSW, ambo's last "pay rise" was 0.3% — it's a disgrace. A cut when you factor in inflation. But that's how conservative governments operate."

    Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

    "The 'hero' narrative deliberately avoids all responsibility to pay nurses better. What characterises a hero? It’s someone who selflessly and tirelessly works to help others, no matter the cost to themselves. 'Hero' and 'compensated fairly for the work they do' are mutually exclusive. You rely on Superman, but you don’t put him on the payroll. That would be wrong."

    —u/TheOtherSarah

    "I'd be willing to settle for an appropriately-staffed ward, to be honest."

    Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images

    —u/onnedance

    "Want to retain good staff? Stop treating people like shit. Good conditions and work/life balance is valued by most above pay."

    —u/RedLeader7

    "We should be staffing so that we can comfortably manage emergencies when they arise — but that would mean maybe 75% of the time we would be having an easy shift. They don’t want to pay us to do that, so we get stretched thin. Honestly I’d take a pay cut to make this a reality."

    Bsip / BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

    "Nursing is so fulfilling and genuinely enjoyable when you have a good day where you get all your work done to a high standard — but these days are few and far between."

    —u/metcall

    "I'm a registered nurse in intensive care — pay is decent in the public system, but the workload is often unacceptable. No amount of money is worth coming into work and being slammed and constantly feeling that you can’t meet the high expectations that are set."

    "The difficulty is that when you have stable, straightforward patients, you only just have enough time to do everything you need to do — but when the shit hits the fan, you end up drowning and providing substandard care. And shit hits the fan fairly regularly."

    —u/metcall

    "The pay isn't terrible, but I've worked in many 24 hour industries and the rostering for nurses is the most ass-backwards that I've ever seen. You are pretty much signing up for life-long exhaustion because they can't figure out how to properly roster in a way that doesn't completely destroy circadian rhythm or make a regular poop schedule impossible. Get it together! Nobody should live like that."

    Bsip / BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

    "The pay isn't good — ICU central supply nurse here. It is not terrible, but you find me a profession that earns just over $100K with 50% nights (that are often busier than a day shift). I've studied for five years at uni, plus a lot of formal and informal education. I also have very few prospects of earning more money, I've pretty much hit the ceiling with how much I can earn."

    —u/ninja_cactus

    "I'm a doctor, so don't know the nursing situation intimately, but personally I do think the people who really need a pay rise are aged care workers. They do an absolutely backbreaking job for very minimal pay, they're terribly understaffed and often undertrained (especially when it comes to patients with issues like dementia), so the turnover is massive — and it's bad for both them and the people they care for."

    Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images

    —u/ninelion

    "As a nurse, I hate this whole hero/serving the community rhetoric. Most nurses don't actually serve the community, when 95% of nurses get paid to provide a service. Popular to contrast belief, we get paid reasonably well for what we do. I would personally give up a pay rise for a couple of years to see nurse-to-patient ratio's mandated nationwide — along with more accountability and scrutiny of healthcare leaders' decisions with how they affect patient safety."

    "The problem at the moment in healthcare — and I feel this is a reflection on society — is the desire for healthcare to be aesthetically pleasing, rather than be of actual substance. There is also a lack of holding people accountable for their own problems caused by their own decisions."

    —u/DearPossibility

    And finally: "I think all the people who keep society functioning and didn't have any choice but to go into work, while a whole bunch of us privileged assholes were able to just work from home, should receive pay rises, to be honest."

    —u/yeryerdude

    Shout out to frontline healthcare workers all around Australia — you're doing exceptional work and you deserve to be compensated for it.

    One Peloton