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In my recent travels, I had the occasion to speak at length with a veteran nurse about the concept of caring. I must say she'd developed a unique perspective-and not one that any of us would want. You see, not only had this individual distinguished herself in various nursing practice settings over the course of decades, she also now carries with her a cancer diagnosis. With it, her involvement with the healthcare system shifted in context from being part of the team to feeling like a spectator of sorts. The game changed abruptly. At one point she knew all of the rules. Now the rules didn't necessarily serve her needs. New boundary lines were firmly set.
As she reflected on this unwelcome transition in her life, it struck her that many nurses seemed competent but not caring. Sure, they could perform a tough I.V. stick and other clinical skills, but could they connect to the patient in a meaningful way, if only for a moment? Were they even aware that this level of interaction made such a difference?
We talked about what caring really looked like, what it felt like. Typical descriptors in the textbooks don't do the concept justice. Deciding that it was somewhat intangible...but something that you'd feel when it happened...we explored the concept through clinical vignettes-the good, the bad, and the ugly. We rationalized that generational differences or even the depth of life experience might be at the core, and then abandoned that thinking. We both knew people of various ages and backgrounds who seemed to get it right intuitively through their words, actions, and deeds.
We agreed that tasks and technology don't always create optimal conditions for demonstrating caring. Neither do fatigue and a hectic work pace-although the best among us prove it's possible despite those challenges every day.
Becoming a patient, or the family member of one, certainly compels a quantum shift in focus. But it shouldn't take a bitter dose of reality to reconnect us to caring.
So what does it take? It's realizing that we interact with individuals during some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. Our presence and how we connect (or fail to connect) can comfort and heal, or cause distress and hurt. It takes mindfulness to appreciate the effect we're having and a personal commitment to make the caring difference.
Until next time-
Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN
Editor-in-Chief, Nursing2010 Vice President, Emergency, Trauma, and Aeromedical Services Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.
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