The Value of a Nurse

Today I have been moved to share with the world what I know about the value of a nurse.

The job of a nurse is difficult to define. A person trained to heal the sick and hold the dying, the nurse is a multi-layered creature born to serve.

A person equipped to handle the worst case scenario imaginable while maintaining an aura of calm, a nurse is a master of prioritizing under pressure. The art of multi-tasking is developed as a means of survival, and it is only with experience that the best nurse is polished until she shines.

She (or he) is often overlooked, under-appreciated, and overworked.

One cannot truly grasp the nurse’s vital importance until he or she is no longer there.  A person who gives and gives day in and day out will eventually burn out.

I am honored to say that I was trained by that great generation of nurses, the Baby Boomers, who remember what the job was like before regulations and liability choked out the heart of bedside nursing. It was a generation who valued excellence in care above all else; a generation of nurses who took pride in the good outcomes of their patients.

I was taught by those nurses to treat the patient first, regardless of hospital satisfaction scores. I was taught to be a team player and help my fellow nurses. I was taught that if I do my job right the first time, if I pay attention to details and take the extra time I don’t actually have, I’ll save time and lives later.

It is those nurses who are tired. It is those nurses who are beat over the head shift after shift, week after week with more tedious and irrelevant tasks that are leaving their first love because they cannot simply treat the patients anymore. They long for times past, and they are struggling to find the joy and satisfaction of nursing they once treasured.

The newer generation of nurses are now just trying to survive. They spend a quarter of their shift actually performing direct patient care, and the remaining three quarters charting what they did in seventeen different places so that no one is sued for what happened in the very short amount of time they actually get to spend with their patients.

But a good nurse figures it out.

Throughout time, against all odds, nurses have figured it out. They learn best practices through evidence based care.

They predict the needs of the providers they work with to streamline quality care. They learn their patients inside-out (quite literally) so that they can be the liaison between providers who need to know critical information. After all, no one knows the patient better than their nurse.

They balance relevant, patient-centered care with the frivolous hospital-mandated requirements, somehow maintaining some semblance of normalcy when they make it home to their families.

They learn to grow a protective layer around themselves that shields them from the unthinkable range of emotions they experience, sometimes just in one shift, then later cope with those emotions in the best way they know how.

Worst of all, it is the nurses who have no clue how truly valuable they are, causing them to retire or change careers in droves.

And shame on us! Shame on us as providers for not telling them more often that we are lost without them.  Shame on us for not standing up for them when they say they need better staffing, newer equipment, or better hours.

The heart of every healthcare agency is it’s nurses. Too often, no one notices when a good nurse does a good job. It is only when that nurse is gone that an unimaginable void is finally acknowledged.

No wonder there’s a nursing shortage.

I went back to school and became a nurse practitioner for many reasons, but one reason is because it saddened me to think about being a nurse until retirement. The long hours, emotional and physical exhaustion, and mediocre pay were not appealing enough to keep me in the ranks.

But I will never give up my title. I’m proud to have been a nurse, and I’m proud to now be a nurse practitioner. There’s a reason I abhor being referred to as “mid-level provider”. Nurse practitioners are not “mid-level”, we are top level, for one reason only. Because we are nurse practitioners.

I am first a nurse.

So, to each and every one of you still dedicated enough to keep fighting the good fight, thank you.

Thank you for all the years and tears. Thank you for every life you’ve touched and for every shift you’ve worked. And please keep it up. We need you, more than you’ll ever know. 

The truth: you cannot measure a nurse’s worth, for a nurse is invaluable.

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