Theresa Brown, BSN, RN, OCN
“I hate not being able to do the little things for patients,” a nurse told me one day. “I hate being that busy.” I know the feeling. The little things can be huge because they remind patients they are still human beings and every nurse wants to have time for these deliberate gestures.
But every nurse also needs time to give patients the medical care they are ordered. When a shift doesn’t allow for human care and health care to both occur, the nurse often ends up frustrated. Sometimes it feels like patients expect a level of service more appropriate to a hotel than a hospital, but at the same time I want to always remember, and make sure my patients remember, that they are people.
So, I hate it when patients insist we should always have fresh coffee for them, but I have spent my own money and time buying coffee for patients. I resent it when patients complain about the quality of the food, but I moved heaven and earth once to get a dying woman a pat of butter. I mind terribly when patients become irate over having to wait, but I once bought a newspaper for a bored patient I didn’t even like, just because she wanted one.
As nurses we often expect ourselves to give until it hurts, but time is not elastic; there are limits on how much we can do for our patients, and their medical needs have to come first. After all, that’s why they’re in the hospital. The challenge is somehow making time for their personal needs, too, without driving ourselves crazy.
Because nurses are the human face of the hospital, when the “H” in hospital starts to stand for harried, it means we run the risk of ignoring the most important health care “H” of all: human being.
- T1. Do medical care and human care have to be, in some ways, mutually exclusive?
- T2. How do nurses (and other health care workers) stay empathic in such stressed work environments?
- T3. If you could change one thing about health care to make more time for patients, what would it be?
Post from Theresa Brown, RN – clinical nurse, author and New York Times opinion columnist, “Beside”.
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