About 18 months into my first nursing job, when the fear of making a mistake was replaced by confidence and critical thinking, I began to appreciate how creativity in nursing can enhance the patient experience as well as job satisfaction.
In this COVID-19 pandemic, examples of creativity abound, borne of both limited resources and severe restrictions on elective patient services and inpatient family visitation. Personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages are forcing clinical leaders to look beyond usual supply chains, reaching out to the community for donations, and accepting 3D-printed face shields and hand-sewn masks. Nurses are finding novel ways of helping patients connect with their families through video call services, printing emailed photos to hang at the bedside, and playing favorite music through streaming platforms. Existing technology is being utilized creatively to facilitate staff meetings and telemedicine visits. The cancellation of elective surgery is leading to hundreds of idle operating room employees. Instead of staff furloughs, administrators are creating impromptu training and mentorship opportunities to facilitate use of perioperative nurses in busy hospital units.
To be creative is to combine skills, experiences, and ideas to improve existing routines or technologies. It can lead to innovation in the tools of the trade, e.g. monitoring devices, specialty beds, lifts and wound dressings. Or it can lead to improved efficiency in the delivery of care or greater effectiveness in patient education. Creativity is needed when there are limited resources, requiring clinical staff to make-do or improvise. In a global society, nurses encounter patients from different races, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, levels of education, and religions. Experienced nurses account for these differences almost subconsciously, adjusting their approach to nursing tasks according to individual needs.
Nurses are busier than ever, caring for sicker patients and tethered to impersonal electronic medical record systems which demand screen after screen of documentation. Creativity can offset some of the stress of these responsibilities by improving our disposition and humanizing our interactions with patients, families, and colleagues. It does not require expensive resources. It is authentic and enables us to share our personalities. Pediatric nurses are more likely to employ playful strategies to promote patient compliance and well-being, but adults appreciate this too.
I remember taking care of 2 female patients in the same semi-private room who were exhausted from having to urinate every 2 hours. One was receiving diuretics and the other was being treated for nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. They were both apologetic about having to call me for assistance to the commode so frequently. At the end of my shift, I fashioned a blue ribbon award out of a chux pad, taped it to a (clean) urinal, and presented it to the patient with the most urine output for the shift. We all had a good laugh and they stopped feeling bad for a clinical situation over which they had no control.
Nursing involves more than medications, data, hygiene and protocols. It requires a thoughtful approach to each patient’s needs and a willingness to think outside the box to accomplish good outcomes. I find that my job satisfaction is tied with opportunities to apply creativity into my clinical practice. Although it’s never been directly measured, I’d bet that patient satisfaction also improves when nurses use creativity in delivering care.