1. Carroll, Susan V.

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For many of us, the end of the calendar year is a time of gift giving during which most of us become caught up in the spirit. We share our abundance with those we love, those with whom we work, and those who may not be as fortunate. Gifts are exchanged in the spirit of holiday giving, of religious celebrations, and just for the sheer fun of it. Gifts run the gamut from a simple hug-one size fits all, and no one minds if you return it-to lovingly baked and decorated edible treats.

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As nurses, we are year-round gift givers. We give to our patients and their loved ones as a part of our everyday practice. Nurses give their time, the purity of their attention, and their acceptance of patients' diverse personalities and needs. Neurologic illness creates unique coping demands for our patients. They frequently sustain damage to their physical, cognitive, and emotional selves that people with other illnesses do not experience. Neurologic illness encompasses a wide array of symptoms, deficits, and sequelae that change individuals immeasurably.


As we care for our patients, we are asked to answer their questions regarding how to cope with their specific challenges. Illness, recovery, and rehabilitation shift the context in which patients must cope. As patients struggle to find personal meaning within the context of neurologic illness, neuroscience nurses provide not only the hands-on care that meets their basic needs but also the other, perhaps less tangible, caring practices that make life meaningful. Within the larger context of caring as a primary element of nursing, we give to our patients by being with them, doing for them, and enabling them (Benner & Wrubel, 1989).


The caring gifts we give typically include technical proficiency, compassion, assistance, and being available whenever we are needed. However, we sometimes overlook the other gifts we give, such as knowledge, communication, and evidence-based practice. Neuroscience nurses are incredibly knowledgeable; we possess an evergrowing body of specialty knowledge that shapes our practice, guides the care we provide, and influences the outcomes our patients achieve. We teach our patients and their families how to manage essential activities. We teach them how to continue to include pleasurable activities in their lives, the little things that boost one's spirits and provide a respite from illness or recovery. We teach them to manage an often overwhelming array of medications and equipment.


We try to equip and empower our patients with the knowledge and skills they need for long-term success after a neurologic illness. Think of a gift as an endowment or an investment in an individual. Nurses invest in their patients by coaching them, supporting their gains, and celebrating their successes. Just as a financial endowment grows as it accrues interest, our patients grow as we invest our time, attention, skills, and knowledge in them. We give our intuitive and rational knowledge to others as investments.


Communication is another gift we give daily. We use communication-written, spoken, and nonverbal-as a way to affect others. Clear, sharp communication can influence others' practice of nursing and medicine. It can sway emotions and change minds. It can validate the subtle changes patients and families report as recovery progresses. Communication is also a gift that can help us support patients and families as they make the very tough choices about continuing treatment after a life-changing event.


We also give our patients and colleagues the gift of evidence. We try to practice in a framework of research that places the scientific method and the evidence it generates at the patient's bedside. Like knowledge, evidence-based practice supports a caring approach to practice that sets a high standard. Neuroscience nurses generate knowledge that, when implemented systematically, can have a profound impact on our patients; at times, we achieve this without conscious effort.


Neuroscience nurses are "gifted" practitioners. Like our patients, we are distinct individuals with unique talents that we willingly share with others. As 2008 comes to an end, think about your own gifts and the many ways you have given them throughout the past 12 months. You won't need wrapping paper or ribbons, just a quiet moment in which to reflect. Take your gifts with you into the new year; they will keep giving.




Benner, P., & Wrubel, J. (1989). The primacy of caring: Stress and coping in health and illness. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley. [Context Link]