I have a friend who is relatively new to nursing. She’s been working night shift on a medical/surgical floor for a little less than a year. A few weeks ago she experienced the death of a patient for the first time. She was very shaken up and asked me when she would “get used to” this part of nursing.
I told her that I hoped she never became accustomed to the difficult and sad parts of nursing. Although difficult to teach, empathy and true compassion are the most important skills a nurse, or any medical professional, can possess. Medical knowledge and skill go a long way, but it is rare to find a good doctor or nurse who is not empathetic.
As a health-care professional today, it is easy to get burnt out from long shifts, consistent understaffing, and difficult or demanding patients. Every day it seems a new task or responsibility is added to a nurse’s duty. I’ve known nurses who are so burnt out and jaded, they face patient death and sad outcomes with no apparent distress. They say they’ve seen it all, and nothing bothers them anymore.
But these nurses are not the norm. Many enjoy caring for and comforting their patients. Most will quickly say that it is the interaction and relationship with patients that draws them to nursing in the first place and keeps them coming back, despite the struggles of the actual job.
I work in a field where I see mostly young healthy patients, and there are usually good outcomes. But when there is a bad outcome, it is often devastatingly heartbreaking. I have sobbed along with parents dealing with a stillbirth and comforted women who have suffered recurrent miscarriages. I have held a baby whose mother died during childbirth and cursed the unfairness of life.
In my opinion, a health-care provider who lacks compassion and empathy is just as bad as an unskilled provider. The day I stop crying with my patients is the day I will seek a new profession.
Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.