I want to share a story with you. A story that sums up why I became a nurse. It’s not about a life or death situation. In fact, it’s about the opposite. It’s about the down and dirty jobs we do every shift.
I was caring for a patient I will call Sue. Sue had been admitted 3 days prior with a fairly severe stroke that had left her unable to speak or move one side of her body. She was completely dependent; being fed by an NG tube, doubly incontinent and had not been out of bed since her admission. As I introduced myself, I saw we had what is often referred to as a ‘code brown’ situation. I also saw the distress in Sue’s eyes. With the help of one of my colleagues, we sling lifted Sue into an ARJO chair and for the first time in 3 days, Sue had a shower.
Sue’s hair was so matted, I actually had to cut her hair tie out. I washed her hair and gently cleaned her, using the nicest smelling wash I could find. I patted her dry, put on her own scented moisturiser and dressed her in own night gown. As I brushed and plaited her hair, Sue grabbed my hand, pulled me around to face her, and squeezed my hand as tight as she could, while tears ran down her face. The gratitude and relief I saw there was unforgettable.
We transferred her into a water chair, propping her up with pillows, making sure she was comfortable. Her daughter came in to visit soon after, stopped abruptly at the door to the room and started crying. I asked her what was wrong and she shook her head, and said “this is the first time since all this happened that she looks like herself again. Thank you for giving me back my mum”. Nursing is not about the so-called glory moments. It’s about the essential cares we provide to each and every patient.
Today I would ask all of you– no matter what area of nursing you practice – to be great nurses. Greatness is a lot of small things done well and this is especially true in nursing, where the small gestures or tasks often have the greatest impact. Small things like holding a patient’s hand while they receive their sutures, singing the Barney theme song to a 2 year old while his cannula is inserted or simply bringing a grieving family a box of tissues show our focus is exactly where it should be – on our patients. Remain focused on them and greatness will follow.
My honours project was inspired by a research paper by Professors Tracy Levett-Jones and Judith Lathlean, titled “Don’t Rock the Boat”. It described how students changed their practices and let their standards slip in order to conform and fit in on the wards. They feared being ostracised by the RNs, choosing instead to go along with practices that might not be evidence based, that might not follow policy, that might jeopardise not only their own safety, but their patients as well. This behaviour often continued after they graduated.
Speaking up is hard, that’s undeniable, especially for early career nurses. However, it is an invaluable skill we need to learn. There is a quote by Robert Kennedy which has always resonated with me and when I start to doubt whether I have the courage to speak up, I try to remember it. Kennedy said:
“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”
I challenge you to show your moral courage. You can change the culture and reputation of nursing, for better or worse. You can conform, join in bullying behaviour or continue negative traditions. Or you can decide it stops with you. Set your standards high and have the moral courage to stick to them. If every graduate nurse demonstrated this leadership and supported other nurses who did as well, imagine the overwhelmingly positive impact that could have on our profession.
Ghandi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I would encourage you to be the change you want to see in nursing, and just watch how the world changes with us.