Many years ago when I was newly promoted to Chief Operating Officer of a large hospital in Berkeley, I was asked by the Chief Nursing Officer who had been my peer but was now my subordinate this question:
Why do we have hospitals?
I offered several fumbling answers, each of which she told me was wrong. I was beginning to think she was trying to put newly promoted me in my place when she gave me the correct answer: Because patients need nursing care. That’s the reason they are admitted.
She was right then and she would still be right today. The fundamental reason why patients are in the hospital is because after everyone else has had a go at them, they require the care and attention of a nurse to recover.
While nursing care continues to become more dependent on technology and requires increasingly more education and training, it still is at its core a one-to-one relationship with the patient.
My introduction to the profession of nursing took place as part of my graduate education. I was in the minority of my graduate program cohort in that I had no clinical background. That’s how I found myself doing the duties of a nurse’s aide in a Bay Area hospital for four months before my first semester.
I worked alongside nurses and saw them using both high-tech and more importantly high touch in their care of patients. One situation I will never forget was watching late one night from across the intensive care unit a nurse brushing the hair of a seriously ill teen age girl who was crying, offering her comfort with her words. I watched that girl get calm and for the first time understood the importance of nursing.
Another time I was working in the emergency service when an elderly woman in cardiac arrest was brought in. She had been on a passenger train when she fell ill. My job was to fetch things for the doctors and nurses as they tried to revive her to no avail. When the patient was declared dead, one of the nurses asked me to remain in the room with her and the patient. She told me that what we were about to do was as important as all the efforts to save the patient’s life. Our job was to prepare the patient to be seen by her husband who was waiting elsewhere in the hospital. She said it was important that he see his wife as he remembered her and not as someone with tubes and other equipment connected to her. That nurse taught me that caring for the patient sometimes means caring for others as well.
I saw other nursing interventions that continue to move me emotionally even many years later. Often, it seems that the only person taking the time to truly understand the concerns of patients is the nurse.
I am proud that there are now nurses in my family. It is a great profession with many avenues of opportunity. Whenever I can, I encourage young people to explore nursing as a career.
While the nursing profession now has many important roles outside the hospital, I remain partial to hospital nurses because, after all, that’s why we have hospitals.
May 6 is National Nurses Day and that week is National Nurses Week. If you know a nurse, give her or him a thank-you for what they do. They deserve the recognition.