For the last eight years, I have served as an online mentor where middle or high school students can submit questions about nursing careers. Most often they want to know about courses to take, degrees required, hours, salary, and many other aspects of the job itself. My goal is to answer their questions but also provide encouragement to pursue their dreams whatever they are. So I found it reflective this “Nurses Week” to receive a question that I think gets to the heart of nursing “What is it like to care for people?”
What a great question! This question was one no student had asked before so it got me to thinking about what one quality nurses possess that identifies the “heart of nursing.” While there are many wonderful characteristics that help define nursing, I think the one quality that reaches far above any other is caring.
There have been some wonderful nurse mentors in my career that have demonstrated this quality beyond measure. My own mother, now retired, has demonstrated that attribute. Today at 84-years-old, people frequently come up to her and thank her for the many years she “cared for them” or their family as patients of the family doctor where she worked for over 36 years. They use the word “care” or some form of it to define what she meant to them. Even in retirement she worked in the local Medical Ministries organization to assist physicians in providing free medical care to indigent patients in the community. She truly has a “caring heart.”
So what is it like to care for people? Webster defines caring as “to be interested in or concerned.” But is there more to this word than just Webster’s definition? Absolutely!
Dr. Kristen Swanson has described caring in five basic processes:
- Maintaining Belief is sustaining faith in a person’s ability to get through an event or life transition. Nurses recognize there is personal meaning for each individual as they face daily challenges.
- Knowing is the second caring process and is a true understanding of the effect the event has in their patient’s life. It helps the nurse to identify the needs of their patient.
- Being with is a process that includes both the physical and emotional presence that allows the nurse to share meaning and be attentive.
- The fourth process, and I believe the key to caring, involves doing for others as they would do for themselves if it were possible. This includes safety and actions in the best interest of the patient and anticipating their needs.
- Finally, enabling is helping the patient and their family through events and life transitions. It is the nurse who connects all of these processes together in providing quality care for patients and their families.
What is it like to care for people? Every nurse I know will tell you that it is wonderful! We gain so much from our patients and their families and each time we become a better nurse and even more caring.