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Thank you for your care over the past three days; you are the best nurse here!!" my patient said as she carefully lowered herself into the wheelchair her husband was holding. She smiled at me, and I smiled back. Her words weren't true of course. I wasn't the best nurse in the hospital, but I knew I would be smiling for the rest of the day. This patient and I had enjoyed each other's company as she had recovered from her surgery and I had cared for her. In our three days together, we had made a connection.

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Her words and her smile had an effect on me for the remainder of my shift. I was doing the same work, on the same unit, with the same people, but I felt better about myself-someone had affirmed my efforts and verbalized her appreciation. My patient's words gave me energy and conviction to deliver the best care possible to my other patients.


Affirmation is invisible. It cannot be purchased or put on layaway. It is free and immediate. Affirmation is one of the few things for which we don't have to wait to enjoy. It demonstrates how important we are to others. It can change our perceptions and motivate us to change the way we pursue our lives.


If affirmation is so powerful, why don't we give it more freely?


Nurses often are hard on each other. What if we all applied a little grace and affirmation instead? Noted essayist, columnist and author Phyllis Theroux said, "One of the commodities in life that most people can't get enough of is compliments. The ego is never so intact that one can't find a hole in which to plug a little praise. But compliments by their very nature are highly biodegradable and tend to dissolve hours or days after we receive them-which is why we can always use another."1


The Bible abounds with examples of affirmation. God, knowing the power of affirming words, led by example. The moment Jesus was baptized and came up out of the water, heaven was opened and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove on him. A voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3:16-17). God spoke words of affirmation to his Son, which is amazing when it is considered that Jesus must already have known that his Father God was pleased with him. Yet God took the opportunity to tell Jesus anyway.


Being a nurse is hard work. Nursing is a mentally, physically and emotionally demanding job. We often work in less than ideal situations, under unusual pressures. We are compelled to give until sometimes we feel we have nothing left to give. By the very nature of the job, we demonstrate endless acts of kindness. Yet more often then not, our actions go unnoticed and unmentioned.


Instead of assuming that our peers know they are appreciated, we should start giving affirmation-and give it frequently. There are hundreds of ways to affirm each other, by such words as, "Well done," "You're doing a great job," "Nice going," "Great," "Fantastic," "Wow, keep up the good work," "Good thinking," "You make it look easy," "You did that beautifully," "You outdid yourself today," "I couldn't have done it without you," "Thank you," "You really helped make today go well," "I like the way you did that," "Thank you for being so patient" and "That was amazing!!"


Imagine a unit of nurses who "patted each others' backs," who spent time every shift making sure they supported and lifted one another up with their words and actions. Imagine nurses who expended more energy affirming one another than complaining about each other.


Our heavenly Father showed the importance of affirmation through his interactions with his Son, Jesus. He wants us to notice one another. He knows the power of the spoken word.


Our world is filled with examples of the importance of affirmation, reflections of Christ's wish for us as individuals. Recall the "V" formation geese use when migrating. This "basic truth" applies to both migrating geese and nurses trying to work together.


When geese fly in formation, they travel about 70 percent farther than when they fly alone. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone. Hence, it quickly gets back into line to take advantage of the power of the formation.


When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing, and another goose flies in front. Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.


Although they cannot speak, the geese know the power of affirmation. They recognize that the entire wing will be stronger and more efficient if those facing the highest level of stress are encouraged by all the others. Peer-to-peer affirmation among nursing staff within organizations could radically change the way nurses feel about themselves and how they do their jobs. Like the geese, each nurse would reap the benefits of peer support. Purposeful, frequent affirmation would create invisible strength to carry nurses through the tough situations that arise in healthcare.


It doesn't take much time to affirm. Have you "honked" lately for one of your peers?


1Lorna Brown, "Recruiting, Training, and Affirming Volunteers: Power Point Presentation," (Candle Ministries Presentation, San Diego, Calif, March 8, 1998): 4.


Reprinted fromJCN, 23(4), 47-48. [Context Link]