1. Bartol, Tom APRN

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A recent newspaper headline lauded an NP from Maine for helping out during a medical emergency on a flight from Miami to Boston. She responded by providing both emergency care and emotional support to the patient.1 We see so many headlines these days of mass shootings, drug abuse, and incidents inciting fear and terror. The news is full of them. It is a breath of fresh air to see a hero in the headlines for a change, and even better, an NP.

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Some wonder what is happening in our world. Terrorism, shootings, and violence are reported far more often than we want to hear. Many feel hopelessness and despair. It can appear that nothing good or positive is happening in our world, but perhaps it is just beyond our perception.


We often do not hear what did not happen in the news, however. How many shootings, suicides, and other tragedies did not occur because of a kind word, a listening ear, or a caring heart? It may be a caregiver at a clinic who listened and picked up on something bothering a patient, helping to build hope for someone who was on the edge. That relationship, that interaction, that caring and compassion may avert a patient from hurting himself or others. Each day people are doing simple things: a kind word from a store clerk, a show of appreciation by a coworker, or a smile and affirming greeting from a receptionist may turn a person's day around.


Opportunities to make a difference

We all have opportunities to make a difference every day, to help another feel heard, respected, important, and loved. Small acts of loving kindness and compassion can change the world-often in ways we will never know.


What does not make the headlines is important. The headlines pick out the rare, the unusual, the unique, what are sometimes called the "black swans" of news.2 It is wonderful to see the news of our NP colleague who made a difference on a flight, helping out in a crisis. This is the type of news that needs to be spread. Although most of us will not have this kind of dramatic opportunity in our lifetime, every one of us has the opportunity to make a difference each day.


Healthcare is not much different. We see the new procedure or new drug that is supposed to save hundreds or thousands of lives in headlines. In other cases, a life is saved through a heroic intervention or a medical miracle. There is no doubt that innovation and technology are changing health. The miracle cures and heroic interventions indeed save lives.


The significance of what does not happen

I have heard a saying, "If a person saves a life, they call her a hero. If a person saves a thousand lives, they call her a nurse." How many cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are prevented because of a clinician's day-to-day actions, working with patients to quit smoking? How many myocardial infarctions (MIs) are prevented because someone spent time with the patient, building a relationship, motivating him or her to make lifestyle changes, to manage stress, to find purpose in life, and to live healthier? How many patients do not develop diabetes mellitus or have strokes, attempt suicide, or become institutionalized because of the actions, caring, and compassion of healthcare providers?


We will never know these numbers. We cannot measure what does not happen. We cannot measure the MIs, diabetes, and suicides that do not occur. There is no way to measure the patients who are living satisfying, quality lives because of the interventions and actions of those who care.


Healthcare has become obsessed with statistics and data. We see who is spending too much money, who is not checking off boxes, who is not at goal or receiving recommended services. But no one is tracking who built a relationship, who instilled hope, who motivated someone to change, or even who actually quit smoking. Granted, some of these things are hard to track, as they cannot be tracked with check boxes or computer reports. These actions come from the heart, and they are at the heart of healthcare. Unlike a statin drug for high cholesterol or a medication to lower a high blood glucose level, these actions multiply. The patient who feels hope, who feels increased self-esteem, who feels good about life, shares this with others, and the effects spread.


The biggest risk factor

I believe that one of the biggest risk factors to good health is lack of hope and purpose. We all need these and, without them, patients get sick in many ways. When we take time, listen to others, and care about them, not just about their BP or medication list, but about who they are and about what is going on in their lives, patients begin to find hope and purpose in life.


NPs make a difference, but usually not the news headlines. We are not looking to be heroes, but we have the opportunity to be a part of patients' lives in a special way. We must not lose that part of nursing, that part of healthcare that sees each patient as a unique and special person.


I hope we continue to see NPs in the headlines, going above the call of duty and acting in selfless ways in crisis situations. We also need to see more NPs in the headlines for community service activities, legislative initiatives, and making our communities and our country a healthier place. But most of what we do will not be seen in news stories. Headlines tout the rare occurrences and the unusual. The difference we make is printed more indelibly in the hearts of the individuals with whom we build relationships in our work and in the rest of our lives. Do something in every patient visit, every interaction, to make it unique for that person. Let us not miss an opportunity to share words of appreciation, of adequacy, and of hope.




1. McDermott D. Bangor Daily News. 2015. Maine nurse hailed as 'hero' on plane. [Context Link]


2. Taleb N. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. London: Random House; 2010. [Context Link]