Prior to discussing my opinion of what the attributes of a great nurse are, it is important to first understand what nursing truly is and how we evolved into the most honored and trusted profession in the world. The reasons are simple; nursing is a profession steeped in rich values based on the work of Florence Nightingale, which has not degraded over time due to the character of the individuals that commit to the calling. Nursing, in my opinion, is a much higher spiritual calling than merely a profession. Our fundamental tenets have not changed over time, either. Those are described as:
- Nursing is founded on specific human values.
- Nursing is a scientific knowledge.
- Nursing is a technical skill.
These tenets are based on specific nursing values that have been studied in literature and remain pretty consistent globally. These include:
- Family values
- Sense of accomplishment
- Human dignity
- Prevention of suffering
In my opinion, a great nurse lives these values and clearly understands themselves and their role in this fine profession. In an attempt to translate the values into behaviors, I would identify the actions as follows:
- A great nurse is compassionate. Compassionate is defined as the feeling of concern and sympathy for others. We need to remember that our patients, apart from cosmetic work or delivering babies, are generally not in the healthcare setting because they want to be. They are fearful and at risk of losing their health, possibly their lives, and concurrently, those visitors with them may be at risk of losing precious loved ones. They are not in control and are frightened, and they need us for support. This also means that we are consummate advocates for the patient and willing to speak up when we do not feel the environment is as safe as it can be.
- A great nurse is empathetic. Empathetic is defined as the ability and willingness to share in the feelings of others. It does not mean that we agree with the patient or completely understand what they are going through. It simply means that we are willing to make a concerted effort to listen to them, to put ourselves in their place and to attempt to understand their challenges. This needs to be done without judgment and with the understanding that everyone has their own set of values and their own life experiences that have brought them to this point.
- A great nurse is selfless. Selfless is defined as the ability to give to others at the expense of themselves. I have countless stories of nurses over the years that illustrate this ability to give to others. This could be as simple as missing lunch to hold a patient’s hand or to do something extraordinary for someone else. I had one trauma nurse I will never forget who was caring for a homeless man hit by a car. When the patient was being discharged back to the street, the nurse realized that his shoes were not removed during the trauma because he did not own any. His foot size was the same as the patient’s, so he gave him his shoes and wore shoe covers for the rest of the day. I felt that this was a tremendous example of selflessness. We recognized him as an everyday hero. The stories go on and on and we need to celebrate them when they happen.
- A great nurse is self-aware. Self-aware is defined as a high degree of emotional intelligence. We are more effective in anything that we do when we understand ourselves, the way we think, and where our values are in reference to others as well as our personal strengths and limitations. Having 15 years of Emergency experience taught me a great deal about myself. There were situations where I felt extremely vulnerable and ineffective, such as dealing with abuse or trauma of small children that basically rendered me emotionally distraught for some time after the events. In that situation, I needed to learn coping mechanisms to deal with the situations or needed the support of my colleagues to trade with me or help me when those times got tough. We all need to support and help each other get through our tough days.
- A great nurse is technically strong with a thirst for knowledge. It is our obligation as nurses to continue to remain on the cutting edge of our practice regardless the discipline. As nursing leaders, we should be reading on healthcare economics, leadership theory and other issues that impact those in leadership roles. Within the independent disciplines it is important to read journals, achieve certifications, continue our academic pursuits and read all of the information that comes from our healthcare organizations in regard to policy, product or process changes. Lack of knowledge can lead to adverse patient outcomes, and for that ignorance is no excuse but rather our responsibility.
Currently we live in unprecedented economic times that will affect the quality of care we deliver. The new healthcare challenges are changing the work environment for nurses and creating value conflicts more than before in the areas of personal, professional, institutionally and social. It is time for us to put the patient at the center of all we do and work to be what we have dedicated our lives to be - The greatest nurse!
What do you think makes a good nurse great?!