This past week I had a uniquely memorable and inspiring experience. I was invited to speak about my career path and the role I play as a private professional RN patient advocate.
When I arrived at the venue, a small classroom lab at the College of Lake County was packed with about 50 nursing students, many of them getting ready to graduate in three months and enter the workforce. They wanted to know what was “around the bend” and what they could expect when they entered the real world of modern-day healthcare. Several other seasoned nurses from various specialties were there and gave testimonies and advice for student nurses getting ready to take the big exam and get ready for their first interviews.
I was inspired, humbled, and excited for the students. I looked into their eyes and saw the excitement and nervousness, the eagerness to go out and make a difference in the world. And I thought, “How lucky I am to have chosen to be a nurse!” Today being a hospital nurse is in many ways more difficult than it was when I graduated.
How it was
In 1976, nurses were taught to spend time with their patients, develop thorough teaching plans and hone our assessment skills, as we who spend the most time with patients were often the ones to pick up a small change that could lead to a catastrophic event in the hospital.
One of my most memorable instructors was an old Army nurse who took no nonsense from any of us. She would walk us into a patient’s room, let us stand there for two minutes, and notice as many things as we could about the room, the patient, and the environment and walk out. We then had a contest: who would be able to make a note of and remember the most things accurately and record them on a paper afterward. The student who noticed the most about the room and patient would win that day. The point she was making was that we first develop the observation skills, then put them into a critical judgment/observation practice that would save lives and influence treatment when we knew what kinds of assessment changes the doctor would need to know about quickly.
We are the doctors’ eyes and ears when they are not there, and doctors depend upon good nursing to prevent harm. Today many of those skills are being lost for nurses who are taught that documentation is everything; if it’s not charted, it did not happen, etc. Two-thirds of nurses’ time must be spent on the computer, and they and their physician colleagues are not happy about it. It is what it is in the modern world of healthcare. And the sad truth is that most practitioners do not have the time to read all that charting anyway. More patient care is done today by unskilled PCT’s (Patient Care Technician) who focus on tasks; nurses are there to give medications and do brief assessments once or twice per day or to change wound dressings.
But nursing remains in my mind the noblest, highest calling of any profession I can imagine. We heal, we comfort, we treat conditions, and we help mend broken hearts. Does it hurt sometimes? Absolutely…but then there is the joy, the peace that comes from knowing that we make a difference every single day we go to work.
Make a Difference
And we can change our specialty when we feel burnout coming on in the one we are in. I am a rare 39 year veteran of ICU nursing, and I loved it so much…countless cards, emails, and memories of thankful patients who told me I saved their loved ones’ lives all give me strength for the battles I face today as a professional advocate.
Those shining faces of student nurses earlier this week really touched my heart. The advice I gave them, in the end, was simple: “Don’t you ever let anyone tell you that the computer is more important than the patient! It never will be; every day, you have a choice: to take the time to listen, to go out of your way to bring comfort and healing, to go the extra mile to make sure your patient gets superior care. Be courageous. Nurses make the difference. We are the ones who bring the CARE to healthcare: go out and change the world!”
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