Every shift isn’t going to be rewarding. Every patient isn’t going to be grateful, or even kind. Every boss isn’t going to see the little things (or perhaps the big ones) that you do for your patients. But becoming a nurse isn’t about the rewards or accolades. It’s about making people feel better.
Having been on both sides of the table, I have found how crucially important it is to keep that simple goal in mind. Going above and beyond for a patient or family member doesn’t have to mean staying two hours past your shift to share a meal with them. It could be something as “little” as taking a minute to explain all those big words the doctor just used. I have seen that family members are often too scared or embarrassed to ask medical professionals what each piece of equipment is or what all those numbers mean. They don’t want to seem stupid or, even worse, annoying, by taking up our time with their “stupid questions”. As nurses we need to always put ourselves in their position. It’s their loved one that’s lying in that hospital bed. Taking one minute to explain what “cardiac enzyme” means or why it’s important that the big mask stays on, can make all the difference.
Another thing I have found in my practice is that patients don’t like to admit what they don’t know. Whether it be about what diet is best for high cholesterol or normal changes throughout pregnancy, no one likes to appear foolish or uneducated. Even today, I have to remind myself that patients don’t know what I know, and I must never assume they understand. For me, those teaching moments are what I find the most rewarding. I take pride in knowing I have given someone empowering knowledge to better take care of themselves (or their loved one). And if it’s something I don’t know, I provide them with resources to get the best answers.
Sometimes, as a nurse, there’s nothing else I can do. I know, those dreaded words that no one wants to hear, especially when it comes to medicine. I have held the hands of family members who’s loved ones are in a coma, one they may never come out of. I have explained the “next steps” for those who are dying. I have reassured the mothers or husbands of mentally ill patients who are being sent to us for help they can no longer receive at home. I have sent family members home from the emergency room at three in the morning telling them, “you have my word, if anything changes I personally will call you.” And I’ve kept my word. I’ve told families when it’s best they don’t leave.
It’s those things in nursing that are left out of job ads and HR contracts. But to me, those are the most important parts.
When my mother was in and out of the hospital, it was the nurses who calmed me down. They called when they said they would. They brought me coffee at two in the morning. They told me when I shouldn’t worry and told me when I should. They reassured me that my family was in good hands. They were honest and real with me. They showed me kindness. They treated me with respect. They made me feel that my concern was valid and heard. Some even made me laugh. They made sure my phone number was written on every piece of paper in case someone needed to call. They explained what was happening. They listened to me. They made me feel better.
So the next time you find yourself wondering what it is you’re doing or why you’re doing it, just remember as nurses, we make people feel better.