It’s hard to fathom that 2020 is the Year of the Nurse. A year when it feels like every conversation in nursing begins with hand-washing and ends with PPE, and we’re all trying to get people to do things that are good for them but that many resist doing?
This theme feels a little strange to me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the scale seemed wrong. I don’t think of meaningful nursing in years.
We all have yearly professional milestones and obligations that help us mark the passage of time. These include our yearly attempt to resurrect the CPR dummy, the annual opportunity to get our favorite employer-branded merchandise on our employee anniversary, or the yearly reminder that we don’t know nearly enough about stroke scales. But those are things we do for nursing. That’s not what meaningful nursing is.
Sometimes it makes sense to me to think of nursing in terms of weeks. The inpatient setting certainly lends itself to that. A patient may arrive at the beginning of the week, but we always have an eye toward the door. We always focus on getting them better as soon as possible and getting them home, back to a place where their world makes sense — certainly more sense than a stay in the hospital often does.
Even if nursing could be measured in years, being a patient never should be.
Moment by Moment
Sometimes, though, it feels like nursing should be measured in shifts. There are days in which we live 8 or 12 hours at a time, where every hour feels like a constant rush, a push to get to the end of the shift with the hope that when you pass the baton to the next shift, the patients are a little bit better off than how you found them.
But the best nursing happens in the moments.
It could be the moment when your education and experience reveal a problem no one else sees. Sometimes it’s when subtle details come into focus and you suddenly can explain to a patient or a physician what the patient’s body has been going through. We all know stories of problems that would’ve slipped through the cracks if not for diligent nurses trusting their instincts and tracking down answers.
Sometimes it’s the moment when we have to take a stand. I don’t think any of us relish going toe to toe with a physician or administrator, but everyone I know will stand and say, “Something is wrong and I will not let it go unaddressed.”
As often as not, though, great nursing happens in the moments in between.
Meaningful Nursing Moments can be Spontaneous
Our patients’ schedules are packed with protocols and tests. And the time that’s left over are the brief interludes when it’s just the patient and nurse in the room. Those are the meaningful nursing moments that can change lives.
Like when a patient who has been stoic for their entire course of treatment suddenly decides that you make them feel safe enough to voice their fears, ask questions, and connect. And those times when a question they have asked before is finally answered in a way they understand and you can see the relief in their eyes.
Most of the nurses who have received DAISY Awards probably have earned them in moments like these. DAISY Honorees have made these instances mean something to their patients — and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
This year is not like anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. COVID-19 has changed our lives. Our work lives move quickly and change just as fast, while our lives outside of work have slowed. Medical professionals at every level are facing challenges and risks they hoped never to see.
These days, people are more isolated and more scared than ever before; every healthcare encounter is heavily structured for maximum safety, while very little is unscripted.
But those moments in between still remain — moments when a scared patient needs a hand to hold, a lonely patient needs someone to talk to, or an unspoken issue needs a voice. Now more than ever, people need to connect with another human, if only for a moment, and oftentimes that person is a nurse.
I guess 2020 truly is the Year of the Nurse.