The secret in caring for a patient is to care for the patient

Somebody once said to me that anybody can be a nurse, you just have to have been a patient once. I don’t necessarily agree with this philosophy – although, I do know that I could not be a nurse if I didn’t have a patient.

But does this make me a good nurse?

• How do we evaluate this dynamic?

• Is it based on good service?

• Does it involve a level of competence?

• Is it a personality type?

• Is it to be humane?

I hope to illustrate that no matter the outcome, it is the journey and relationship between nurse and patient that enriches us from day to day.

The nurse

Let me start by asking you, what kind of nurses do you know? Contrast that to what kind of nurses would you like to have? This implies a look at personality types.

Each nurse has her own unique personality and each patient has different needs. These two factors need to meet. The nurse is on a stage in front of her patients, so they must be self-aware, genuine, warm, respectful and empathetic.

Nursing has evolved a lot over the years to what we have come to expect from nurses today. There was a time when nursing duties fell on nuns, especially during the wars. Before the 19th century, most nurses didn’t have any formal training and many lacked any education at all. Nurses were typically women who provided the injured and wounded with comfort and not necessarily good, or any, medical care. Then came the era of the extra-ordinary nurses like Florence Nightingale, Walt Whitman and Mother Teresa, who pioneered the path for nurses from bedpan to bachelor’s degree.

The patient

So what is a patient?  “A patient” implies a person who is bearing, or enduring pain and who is under medical care for such hardship. In oncology, we have to focus on three outcomes: those for whom cure is possible, those for whom control is possible, and those for whom palliation is the goal.

The relationship

Do we, as nurses, want to preserve life, or do we want to alleviate suffering?

Nurses pledge service to humanity, maintaining the total health of the patient as our first consideration. We have a very precious relationship with the patient, the patient’s family and significant others, especially in the oncology backdrop.

Sometimes it’s to fight for the patient’s health, sometimes it’s to know when to let go, but always it’s to keep the patient’s well-being at heart. The patient has been placed in a vunerable position. There is bad news that has been conveyed with the diagnosis. The patient and family are often overwhelmed with emotions.

The nurse needs to have coping skills to deal with the situation, as well as to prepare and equip everyone for the journey ahead.

For a nurse, there are of course many inherent tasks related to nursing the patient. It might be to put up a drip, to give chemotherapy, to do a bedbath, to dress a wound, or to enhance comfort measures to relieve pain. For this we need competence.

But what is competence without compassion, caring and the human touch? We as nurses, are in a privileged position – we can prolong survival, improve quality of life and relieve suffering. We are facilitators, communicators, and intermediators. We are in a position of power to influence the health system. We have access to sacred information and get to share the patient’s story… There is nothing more meaningful than this privilege!

We also have a responsibility to impart information to patients. We often have to translate the medical information into a format that is understandable to the patient. We can empower patients to make decisions that affect their daily lives.

Living by your wants will never make you happy. What it means to be fully human, is to strive to live by ideas and ideals and not to measure your life by what you’ve attained in terms of your desires. Measure it but by those small moments of integrity, compassion, rationality and self-sacrifice, because, in the end, the only way that we measure the significance of our lives is by valuing the lives of others.  – Dale Gale

Written by Sister Andrea Brummer