Updated: Dec 21, 2020
While retired from her work as a nurse practitioner, Carol Sams, RN, ANP-BC-Retired, remains involved with the nursing profession by serving as the Executive Director of the Greater Cleveland Nurses Association. She reflects on her interactions with patients, and shares her insights on the nurse-patient relationship, offering words of wisdom, especially relevant during this year.
Nurses typically begin and end their careers at the bedside. Most nurses remain in direct patient care whether in a hospital, outpatient setting, school, home health, or public health. As a RN and later an adult nurse practitioner, I have been blessed by many special nurse-patient relationships over the years. The 5C’s of Caring--Compassion, Commitment, Confidence, Competence and Conscience were foundational to my nursing practice. Much of my career involved work with vulnerable populations: people living in poverty or experiencing homelessness, those with disabilities, and those with limited access to health care. Sadly, advanced disease was preventable only if people knew how and when to get help and trusted our healthcare system. I learned to do more with less when necessary. Adapting to the resources available to the patient makes the plan of care unique and achievable.
A patient knows if they can trust you enough to ‘open-up’ within the first few minutes of an encounter. The most memorable relationships--whether short, intermittent or long, can be exemplified by the way a patient shows their appreciation for what you bring to their experience. While in many healthcare settings patient satisfaction surveys are relied on for outcome data, the best praise is personal and expressed to you by the patient and/or family. It comes from the heart as a “thank you” or reflection of what you did for them. Here are a few examples from my career.
In 1990, a man hospitalized with advanced AIDS said, “You know what I have and yet you are willing to care for me and hold my hand during this test.”
An outpatient said, “thank you for saving my life. You sent me for a colonoscopy and I had Stage 3 colon cancer. I had surgery and chemotherapy and now I am in remission.”
Another said, “I lived a hard life and never trusted anyone, especially when I was incarcerated. My diabetes and high blood pressure have led to many health problems and I am overwhelmed. You were there for me when I was having trouble managing and needed help.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are challenged in unimaginable ways, yet continue to meet the needs of patients. Stay strong. Stay safe. Remember that you matter to our patients and families. Nursing will always be important and valued in society. Thank you, colleagues and future nurses, for the vital work you do and will do.