There’s something so exciting about your first day as a nurse. Yes, it’s an all nerves kind of thing, with hands shaking as you start your first, real IV, or searching frantically through the micromedex for drug interactions before passing a single pill, but it’s also invigorating. You sail from room to room with a pleasant grin spreading across your face and the full intention to make every single person you encounter feel ten times better.
There’s this pride in finally being able to say, “I’m a nurse,” and you carry that mantle with a smile of satisfaction over holding such an honorable role. Even now I hold that position of pride, and it makes my face flush with gratification to say out loud, “I am an RN.”
But in the field of nursing every day is not traipsing through a field of wildflowers while singing The Sound of Music. Instead most days are struggling to climb that hill, then subsequently not rolling down the other side like poor Jack with Jill following after.
That bright-eyed wonder and cheery disposition becomes easily infected by unrealistic demands, maltreatment, and aching feet. There’s still that eager nurse in there with a mindset for healing, but she’s typically drowned out by her haggard alter-ego who just wants to go home on time for once.
Those called to the field of nursing are done so because they hold within them a desire to serve their fellow man, but sometimes their spirit is crushed by being treated like just a servant far too many times. The expectations far exceed what they are capable of providing, and the lack of grace bestowed them is exhausting to say the least.
We live in a generation where you can have your burger any way you want it in five minutes or less, so why shouldn’t healthcare be any different? Indeed the average Joe who becomes angry over slow internet and sketchy cell service also has little to no patience for waiting to see the doctor or to get their water refilled.
We now serve a community that knows as much about medicine as WebMD can provide, and have no qualms about sharing that knowledge when it opposes the admitting diagnosis. We perform in an environment where patients record their interactions with us in hopes of litigation being in the future, and we try to take care of people who listen to lawyers on TV over their prescribing provider.
In all the rush to do the “business” of healthcare faster, yet maintain the upmost patient satisfaction, you’re left with frontline workers hobbling off the battlefield in record numbers. Retention becomes a joke, and if it wasn’t so tear-inducing you’d probably laugh hysterically.
One day the bedside nurse looks up blurry-eyed from canned text nursing documentation and realizes their heart’s just not there anymore. And believe me, no one is more disappointed to discover this than the nurse themselves.
Fond remembrances of the eager anticipation over patient care crosses one’s mind, and although the love for the field is ever-present, the heart, the real meat and potatoes of passion and drive has left the building.
So what happens when your heart’s not there? Patient care suffers. The bare minimum is maintained, and honestly, that’s all there’s been time to obtain for a long time now. But what also suffers is the nurse. You’re left with a heavy-hearted healthcare champion whose only ambition was to leave people better than he or she found them, yet is completely devastated that the bright light inside their torch is only flickering just enough to push through another shift.
I wish I knew the answer. I have some ideas, but no fast solution to bring back the light in every burnt out nurse’s eye. For some the demands are doable, but for so many the struggle only serves to sever their heartstrings from the bedside slowly and painfully, until only bitterness remains.
Thankfully there’s still pleasant days. Jolly laughter, appreciation, and camaraderie bring the nurse back to where it all began. And in those moments the sweet aroma of the good ole days keep the angels of healthcare nursing on.
For now they nurse on.