1. Baker, Kathy A. PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

Article Content


One of my favorite non-fiction writers is Dr. Parker Palmer (, a highly regarded education consultant who spent several years living and learning from members of a Quaker community. He works with professionals across the country helping them to find their original "calling" to their vocation so that their passion and commitment is renewed. Because of the stressful work we do as nurses, I have found his writings resonate with my daily challenges as a nurse, academician, and editor. Additional life responsibilities like parenting young adult daughters who are making their way in the world and caring for aging parents have contributed to a feeling that often, my life is out of control. But Palmer's writings help me center myself. He reminds me of what is important. And even more precious, he reminds me that all of these responsibilities and experiences contribute to who I am. My need is to slow down long enough to know myself.


Nurses and associates share remarkable life experiences with our patients. We are with them in the everyday throes of life as they experience worrisome medical procedures to diagnose or treat health issues. We are with them to experience the joys of birth and the heartache of trauma or even death. We see them struggle with fearful news, hold their hands as they experience pain, and celebrate both the joys of new life and passing into another life. Our "everyday" work experiences are extraordinary when compared with those who have pursued other vocations. However, I think we often are sensitized to the extraordinary because it has become so ordinary for us.

Kathy A. Baker, PhD,... - Click to enlarge in new windowKathy A. Baker, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

As a nursing academician, I often engage in conversations with colleagues who agonize that we do not do a good job as a profession of helping students and new graduates learn how to walk this world of highs and lows, to see the extraordinary and cherish the privileges we are given. We do not role model for them how to support patients through life-changing experiences, how to listen with the heart, how to internally process and deal with what we have seen and heard, how to renew ourselves inwardly so that we can care for patients day after day who need our "art" of nursing, not just our science. My fear is that we do not do a good job because most of us have not reconciled how to do these ourselves.


According to Palmer (1998), "when a person is healthy and whole, the head and the heart are both-and, not either or." Head and heart are connected when we are healthy and whole. Nurses and associates must not only nurture head (knowledge) and heart (feelings) in our patients' experiences of health and illness, but we must feed our head (science) and heart (art) to care for our patients effectively. When we give attention to our own head and heart, we are able to more effectively care for our patient's head and heart.


So how do we care for our head and heart? We schedule time for both. The time we spend increasing our knowledge of the science of nursing through reading journal articles, attending clinical conferences, networking at regional and national Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA) meetings, and serving as leaders in SGNA develops our head knowledge. Quiet time away from work and family responsibilities, reading daily devotionals or practicing meditation, journaling your day, and sitting quietly outside to enjoy the beauty and joys of nature are examples of nurturing the heart. Time for both of these is essential to be healthy and whole. And it will not happen unless we deliberately choose to give time to what is important in our life.


I count one of the greatest joys in my life as being a nurse. But that doesn't mean it comes easy. Nursing is hard work. It requires that I continually expand my knowledge and hold myself to high standards that make me give more than I often want to give. Nursing is heart work that requires me to give of myself to others so that I can hear their fears and needs, share their joys and sorrow, offer wise direction and needed counsel in stressful decisions. Nursing requires renewal of the nurse so that the years of knowledge and expertise gained from experience and study is invested in patient after patient over year after year through the passion of the nurse's heart. Nurses must attend the head and heart ... the "and," not the "or."




Palmer P. J. (1998). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass. [Context Link]