Jessica Ann Emmons, MSN, CRNA
Clinical Editor, Lippincott NursingCenter.com
Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglect
William Shakespeare, King Henry V,
Act 2, Scene 4)
You hear the familiar chirping of your alarm and, though it might be pm or am, you roll out of bed, putting your feet on the floor to face another day. The familiar feel of the cool scrub fabric, the hug of your clogs, and the weight of your bag on your shoulder mean you’re ready to go. You jostle the weight of your bag and find your car keys, taking care not to spill the precious cup of coffee you will sip on your way to work. All of this occurring every workday as you leave behind your own family, their appointments, needs, obligations, parties - to go take care of people – veritable strangers – and put their needs ahead of your own. Parking, walking in, thoughts of the day or night ahead intrude, and you find yourself asking for guidance and strength to accomplish your tasks today. The journey to your unit finds you walking alongside a colleague taking the same path to start their day. Together you enter the office, unit, or wing in which you work, and hear the steady buzz of familiar voices, the tolling beep of the call bell system, the phones jangling in the background, the rhythmic thump of the wheels of a transport stretcher and soak in the familiar sounds of the shift starting. Your assignments, duties, case files, or patients for the day await you. Joining a colleague nearby, you get started, take report, and another day is underway.
If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that, like three million of us in this country in an amazing variety of settings, you are a nurse.
There are so many of you that I have witnessed over the years, quietly, anonymously bringing joy and comfort to patients, asking nothing in return, never seeking to be recognized for your work.
Your name may never have been on the Daisy™ banner in your unit.
You may never have received the extra mile award, or employee of the month award.
That lack of public recognition does not deter you from giving it your all every day, because your sense of pride in being a nurse isn’t based on outside awards or recognitions.
You measure your success in a different way - because you are a nurse
Your success can be experienced in the intimate space you create when respectfully caring for an incontinent patient in the hospital to maintain their dignity.
The quiet look of recognition and gratitude from a family member saying goodbye to a loved one for the last time, may be all the acknowledgement that you require.
Your sense of purpose may be reinforced by the conversations that you have with patients, where they may finally gain an understanding of their disease, or medicines.
Your ability to experience the full range of human experiences, from birth to death and everything in between, feeds your soul, and keeps you coming back to the bedside each day.
You are the therapeutic environment that you seek to create. You permit healing to occur through the micro-choices you make on behalf of your patients every day. You create safe space with your own words and deeds then use it to renew the human spirit.
To each nurse giving their heart and soul to this work every day, I implore you to apply the same rules of forgiveness, empathy, and care, to yourself.
Take excellent care of yourself. There is a cost to us, when we take care of patients who are barely invested in their own care. You are as worthy of care and respect as those in your charge. When you bring your WHOLE self to the bedside, you care for others, teach new nurses how to do it by example, and feed your joy, your love, your essence, into a system that needs you now more than ever.
As we shine a light on nurse wellness, and support our colleagues with mental illness, or secondary stress, we aim to keep our colleagues away from the cliff of depression, suicide, and professional paralysis.
Nurses need to celebrate their profession this week and every week, in my opinion. We need to continually renew our own inspiration and listen to the stories of colleagues. This week, or whenever you need to renew your passion for nursing, I urge you to ask a colleague to share a story about what inspires them or sparks their love of nursing.
Think back to an instructor or mentor that helped shape who you are as a nurse, and as a person. Imagine if they left the profession due to compassion fatigue, or worse, before they met you and had that impact. We rise and fall together in nursing, teaching and guiding one another as we go. The loss of that one person could have changed where you are right now. As mentors and teachers of patients and young professionals alike, remember that the small ripples we start can travel over great distances, over generations, and have a lasting impact.