Karo Burmazovic (30) worked as a nurse for ten years. Finally, she received the full blow of the nursing shortage: ignorant colleagues, illegal rosters and then the patients also became aggressive. “The boat is sinking,” says Karo, explaining why she now works in a tattoo studio.

FOCUS online: Can you tell us what motivated you to do the three-year training to become a health and nursing nurse?

Karo Burmazovic: I had the impulse as a small child. In fact, since I was six years old. My father died then. He could have been helped with that. I never wanted to be helpless in a situation like that. I wanted to know and then be able to take action accordingly.

The older I got, the more this became an issue for me socially. We must not be afraid to help others. We must not look away. Yes, I think that was something like the driving force behind my career choice.

Do you want to tell us what happened to your father back then?

Burmazovic: He had a heart attack. It happened in the parking lot in front of his company, he was carpooling with colleagues. They made an emergency call, but nothing more. Nobody gave first aid. My father didn’t have to die.

You sound as if you went into your training with full conviction.

Burmazovic: Not just in training. Before that, after graduating from college, I did a voluntary social year (FSJ) in the hospital.

A positive experience?

Burmazovic: 100 percent, yes. I was in neurology. Of course it was tiring. I have seen a lot of misery, a lot of fate. But I also felt like I was getting closer to what drove me.

Because you didn’t just stand there helpless, but were able to do something?

Burmazovic: That’s one thing, but I think it was more than that. Neurology is a special field. We had patients of all ages. It can happen to anyone, that was an eye-opener for me. This makes it all the more important that we develop an awareness that we as people are there for each other. We have a responsibility, each individual and we as a society. By the way, this is not a one-sided giving, you also get something in return.

As an individual? Or are you referring to society again?

Burmazovic: Both. There’s no question that the work back then was difficult – physically and mentally. But it made sense, in many ways. An example: There was this man in his fifties who was seriously ill with Parkinson’s disease. His gait was clumsy and he could no longer look after himself.

Of course it would have been beneficial for the station’s processes if I had taken over certain things. But that would have felt wrong. I tried to slow down the inner impetus and adapt to the patient’s pace. I didn’t put him in a wheelchair, but rather led him by my arm.

I also let him take care of his personal hygiene as much as possible himself. I only assisted when it really wasn’t possible anymore. At first it may seem like a sacrifice to invest time. But that is too short-sighted.

What do you mean?

Burmazovic: Patients who have every move taken away from them deteriorate very quickly. Or rather, they don’t build up. Nobody benefits from this – not the patient and not the care system, which of course gets people back soon. The boomerang principle…

A lot of what we learned in the textbooks later in our training was like confirmation. Why do you become a nurse? Yes, of course, because you want to help people get healthy. Or rather, because you want to give them the best possible support in dealing with their limitations.

This is exactly what I experienced during the Voluntary Social Year. I went home after my service with the basic feeling that I had done something meaningful. Unfortunately, as a qualified specialist it was completely different.

What was the basic feeling then?

Burmazovic: Somewhere between sad and hopeless. I was also angry at an environment that – there is no other way to put it – destroys people. Those who work there as well as those who are cared for there. What particularly annoyed me was that part of the problem was homemade

What do you mean?

Burmazovic: At the beginning of nursing training there were 30 of us. Only eleven of us passed the exam. The system urgently needed the 19 who dropped out. And these 19, I’ll give you that in writing, they weren’t bad.

Where was the problem?

Burmazovic: My impression: Nursing was on a damn high horse back then. It wasn’t about arousing enthusiasm or strengthening skills. It was funnel learning, cramming technical terms.

Paradox: A few years later, when skilled workers from abroad were actively recruited, it was exactly the opposite. Suddenly we had to deal with people in the stations who, due to their lack of language skills, only understood the station. How are you supposed to manage a handover like that?

You turned your back on the care industry last year…

Burmazovic: Yes, after ten years. I know what you’re about to ask. Yes, the situation has worsened dramatically over time. In 2013, during the FSJ… it was really a different world.

What are you up to?

Burmazovic: The mood among colleagues, for example, was much better back then. Especially among the older people who were close to retirement, it felt like they wanted to pass something on. You are our future, something like that. And not: You are the ones who get all our frustration because everything is missing. Of time, of manpower, of an atmosphere in which people can become healthy.

It may be that we FSJ members had a bit of a special status and were treated comparatively gently and that is why I remember this time so positively. From today’s perspective, just the fact that we existed was a luxury…

What do you mean?

Burmazovic: Well, there are hardly any FSJ members today and there are no “Bufdis” at all anymore, the federal voluntary service has been abolished. Interns are now also a rarity. The buffer that cushioned a lot ten years ago is gone. This shows the nursing shortage in its entirety.

Can you describe the “dimension” in more detail?

Burmazovic: I have been in surgical orthopedics for the last three years. The first thing I noticed here was, as I said, the lack of support among colleagues. Clearly, there is no good care in such an environment. For example, it has happened that people lay in their feces for six hours because no one was willing to change the pad.

Shifting responsibilities back and forth was just as much a constant theme as diving into semi-important administrative tasks on the PC, because that’s obviously less stressful than changing bedpans all at once. Or: pass on important information. If the latter does not take place, it can of course even be life-threatening.

An example?

Burmazovic: I remember a patient who had a heart attack. In itself, he was at the top of the list and should be given special attention. But the colleague in charge ignored him and wasn’t even at his bedside for three to four hours. You then have two options: Either you take action yourself, start a new drip, check the values ​​and so on. Or you talk to your colleague: Have you checked on him?

What have you done?

Burmazovic: Both. Just this much: My asking, in particular, wasn’t exactly conducive to the working atmosphere… To be honest: I can understand if patients become aggressive under these conditions.

So “difficult patients” are still an issue?

Burmazovic: A constant topic. I mean difficult in the sense of demanding and making demands. As if your own life is worth more than that of others. “I have a patient in a life-threatening condition, your shower needs to wait a while” – even when I was that clear, sometimes that didn’t help.

How did you deal with it?

Burmazovic: Unlike many colleagues. I tried not to dismiss these people as rude, but to remain understanding despite everything. When you are unwell, you may not have the strength to see something like a nursing crisis. Seething on the inside, professional and friendly on the outside – that’s how I get through the shift more and more often.

Of course that is draining. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the German Hospital Institute is registering a nationwide increase in staff absences due to illness. The overload is really extreme.

One problem, we hear again and again, is the so-called key: nursing staff are responsible for too many patients at the same time.

Burmazovic: Key? It sounds like there is a principle according to which care is organized. Taff organized perhaps, but organized nonetheless. According to the motto: Here the key, there the lock – when both come together, the door opens. But it is not like that.

Let’s not talk about keys, let’s talk about reality. In the last few years I haven’t experienced a day that went according to plan. When things were going well, only one person was sick, often there were several. It was not uncommon for students to be on the schedule as full-time employees. Actually, of course, that doesn’t work.

Actually – but no one said anything?

Burmazovic: Something like that. Or: If so, then maybe a job newbie. Of course, I would have preferred it if I hadn’t been responsible for ten, 20 or even up to 30 patients alone during a night shift. But if there are no staff, there are no staff. The system is on the verge of collapse, the boat is sinking – at some point you will see it crystal clear. Also that you will go under if you don’t do something quickly…

So giving up as a form of self-protection?

Burmazovic: Plus the thought: In the worst case scenario, one day I might even be complicit. I definitely didn’t want to be like the colleague who ignored the heart attack patient. Seen this way, a severe corona infection in the summer of 2022 was both a blessing and a curse.

What do you mean?

Burmazovic: I had a bad case of myocarditis. I was then on sick leave for six months. When I returned to work, I noticed that I was no longer physically resilient. It was difficult for me to quit. It’s sad to leave people behind…

The patients?

Burmazovic: And also my colleagues. With everyone who leaves, the workload becomes even heavier. Some people literally begged me to stay.

Did you have a guilty conscience?

Burmazovic: Actually, some people tried to convince me that. According to the motto: You already know what that means for the others. But I felt bad for another reason. I just said why I chose this career…

Her father …

Burmazovic: Right, it almost felt like “letting me down”. On the other hand, I know my father would have wanted me to live. Anyone who is constantly at the limit lives dangerously. And that’s probably especially true for me. As a result of myocarditis, I was diagnosed with an abnormality in my heart. A problem that my father also had. I don’t want to pay the price he paid.

What are you doing today?

Burmazovic: I am self-employed in a tattoo studio. I’ve always been creative, graffiti, painting… I’ve been helping people in a different way for a good year now.

What do you mean, you “help” people?

Burmazovic: For me it really is. Many who come feel uncomfortable in their bodies. The tattoo gives you a different body awareness. It’s a great feeling when customers just walk out of the studio happy. It’s a bit like back then during the FSJ: What I do has a meaning. Only one thing is different now…


Burmazovic: Back then I sometimes thought: If you were lying there… and then I tried particularly hard. Now I think: I would never want to go to the hospital under these circumstances. That’s why I do everything for a beautiful, healthy life. I know some people find this selfish. It is important to me to do my best. I believe that we humans are and will remain a community. We just have to learn to look better again. In emergency situations. And other things too.