What’s in a Nurse? 1) Empathy

As one of my nursing clinical rotations closed out this week, our instructor showed us this video

Through it, she urged us on to being a blank slate for our patients, something I’ve learned to do more through this short year in nursing school. When I go to clinicals, I come in with my own context, burdens, and feelings. I can get caught up in my world of me – complaining about the things I need to finish or trying not to fume about the driver who cut me off on the way in. I am me and I bring “me” into work, into seeing patients. And in this year I have seen a wide gamete of patient’s life situations, identities, and personalities (although I have much more to see) – that are not like mine at all. So to be a nurse requires me to lay down my context and step into someone else’s.

When I can offer patients an open mind and a little (sometimes a lot) of empathy, that can make the biggest difference in a patient’s stay. My empathy comes readily when working with “easy” patients, but it’s the “difficult” ones that take a change of heart and for whom empathy can make the biggest difference. What makes them a frequent flyer to the floor? What made him to cuss out the nurse during the last shift? What’s the reason behind the attitude? But I’ll never have those answers unless I seek to know. Those answers matter and they can open the door to a relationship that can provide healing.

As nurses, we cannot guarantee a patient’s physical healing but we have an opportunity to heal a person’s spirit. Perhaps it’s a spirit broken by physical pain or emotional neglect. Perhaps it’s broken by lack of access to the things they need. Perhaps it’s a spirit broken by strife in their closest relationships.

But what an amazing gift it is that I can be present with people in their most vulnerable or intimate times and offer them something more.

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