1. Sweat, Mary T.

Article Content

Nursing is thought of as a caring profession. However, all too often patients leave the hospital feeling nobody cared or they were not cared for well. What does the word care mean and what is meant by caring? Sometimes care has an indifferent meaning, like when you ask if someone wants tea or water and they respond, "I don't care."

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

In nursing care is central. Care tops the lists of outcomes and values we want for our nursing students. Some schools of nursing base curriculum on a caring model. The medical center near my College of Nursing requires all employees to sign a "CARE Behaviors" (Compassion, Attitude, Respect, and Excellence) commitment pledge.


Dr. Patricia Benner in The Primacy of Caring uses caring to mean persons, events, projects, and things that matter to people. She views caring as a word for being connected and having things matter. Caring sets up the condition that something or someone outside the person matters; caring creates personal concerns (Benner, 1989, p. 1).


Our Lord's disciples asked Jesus if he cared. In his gospel, Mark notes an instance where the disciples were fishing and a huge storm surfaced. As danger grew, Jesus was sleeping in the stern. The disciples woke him and said, "Teacher, don't you care that we drown?" (Mark 4:38, NIV). What were they asking? Jesus was physically present, but was he with them?


The word "care" finds its root in the Gothic "Kara" which means to lament. This basic meaning of care is to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with pain (Nouwen, 1974, p. 34). In looking at this background we come to think that care is being ready to enter into what someone else is feeling. Based on these parameters, where do we find ourselves as nurses? How do we show caring in a way that our patients or students feel cared for?


In Mark 4:38 Jesus was in the boat asleep. Are there times when we are present with students, but, as the saying goes, "not all there?" What are ways we can make our caring presence alive so that patients will know they have been cared for? How do we communicate that we're not asleep?


Real care involves being present by actively listening and asking good questions. It is engaging with the person when interacting and when culturally appropriate, making eye contact. I feel cared for not only when I'm listened to in the moment, but when the person remembers what I have said at a later time.


Real caring involves vulnerability. We have a tendency to run away from painful realities. We can think that if something isn't our problem, it doesn't involve us. But we could easily be the patient, student, or colleague asking for help. Caring can be an emptying of ourselves and removing barriers that keep us from being closer to others. Caring can be walking in another person's shoes.


It takes more than just being in the same boat to demonstrate care. Real caring has a nurturing quality that puts love in action. The disciples wanted action from Jesus to show he cared. Of course, they didn't expect Jesus to calm the storm; nobody could do that. For us as nurses, going the extra mile can be an action that lessens the storm for patients who don't believe anything or anyone can stop impending disaster. I know an educator who pulled scholarship money midsemester from what seemed out of nowhere for a needy student in despair. I know nurses who take time to listen during impossible shifts and then search for what a patient needs. Caring can involve keeping a family in a storm of fear informed and supported. Caring can mean being a strong advocate in a healthcare system where patients can be overlooked.


We commonly talk about care, but we, as nurses, need to be aware of ways to convey care so that it is felt by our patients. Spiritually caring is making sure our patients know they-and their needs, are important to us.


Benner, P., & Wrubel, J. (l989). The primacy of caring: Stress and coping in health and illness. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley. [Context Link]


Nouwen, H. J. (1974). Out of solitude. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria. [Context Link]