1. Palermo, Kathryn

Article Content

The stresses never stop, the requests pile up, the help is limited, and then burnout sets in. Bedside nursing requires many elements: a safe practice, a compassionate touch, an inquiring mind, and a desire to do it day after day. When work gets tough, the hardworking nurse gets tougher. Is it any wonder that nurses are all so tired?

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

The societal pressure of being "modern day heroes" during a ravaging pandemic while still caring for oneself and a family has left nurses empty and worn out. Nurses live with long lists of tasks to complete and patients to please. Any bedside nurse today knows the weight of the stress, anxiety, guilt, strain, fear, and uncertainty. Where can relief be found? Perhaps relief may come from an unlikely source that typically carries even more weight for the bedside nurse. Maybe Christian nursing students are the load lifters, the weight bearers.


I recently accompanied a group of six students on a clinical rotation at an inner-city hospital in Denver. This clinical site had experienced significant turnover in the last 6 months, like many other hospitals. Experienced nurses had left for better paying travel assignments. Beloved managers and directors had left for work away from the onslaught of COVID-19. This group had lost two peers to the virus. The remaining nurses were depleted and worn thin, watching as their peers were replaced with travel nurses and new graduate nurses. My students were not greeted with enthusiasm, optimism, or a passion to train the next generation of nurses. Instead, we heard grumblings of "more work" and "oh no, not students again!"


In 5 weeks at our clinical site, the nursing students gave not what was deserved, but what was desperately needed. Day after day, we held up heavy arms and aimed to make the load a little lighter. Student nurses answered every call light. They gave the nursing assistants breaks and measured vital signs on all patients, not just their own. The students toileted, dressed, and sat with the most confused patients. They accepted without question any task that could lighten a load. They changed batteries on telemetry monitors, emptied trash cans, changed bed linens, fed, toileted, ambulated, and repeatedly taught patients. These students left the clinical days exhausted and drained. Care was provided to patients, but ultimately, these nurses in training cared for their professional nurse colleagues by working with grace.


One student commented, "When we were introduced to the staff nurses who would be our proctors for the day, you could feel the burnout and sensed that they felt we were an extra burden. I was quick to say I was there to help. A few took me up on that offer. After a few hours of assistance, nurses relaxed and began to teach more as they worked. I left with the satisfaction of knowing that I had cared for patients and the nursing staff!"


What is grace? It has an unassuming definition, right? I would define it as unmerited love or courtesy. Piper (2020) described grace as "undeserved favor" or "action or the power or the influence or the force of this disposition, which produces real, practical outcomes in people's lives." Zahl (2007) called it "love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable" (p. 36). Zahl also defined grace as "one-way love" (p. 70). Christian nursing students have a unique opportunity to operate on this one-way street-the opportunity to produce a real and practical outcome in someone else's life.


The last thing the nurses at our clinical site expected was to be loved by our students. The student behavior on display did not match what was deserved. We typically think about nursing students ministering to patients, but don't often consider that the nurse preceptors may be the ones on the receiving end of that ministry. This one-way, grace-laden ministry of love was unexpected, which is what made it so powerful.


Piper J. (2020, May 8). What is grace? Desiring God.[Context Link]


Zahl P. (2007). Grace in practice. A theology of everyday life. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. [Context Link]