One day, many years ago, I was a new nurse. I had just graduated from nursing school and was proud of my new qualifications and after working in a large hospital for about a year, I was getting used to the routine of going to work each day, filling out paperwork, and treating a variety of patients. I really felt like I had the hang of things!
But then a few more months passed, and I realized that my confidence was somewhat founded in naivete. Where I had once believed myself to be the perfect nurse who had everything together, I quickly learned that I had a lot to learn and a lot of areas in my life and my work that I could improve upon. I quickly became despondent, feeling like my work was useless and that I would never be able to make any real difference.
I struggled for weeks. The patients seemed to be more challenging and the treatments more difficult. I was working overtime in what felt like an increasingly thankless job. I would go home and cry while soaking my sore and swollen feet and binging on ice cream for a little comfort.
I felt this way for a long time. Then, on one particularly difficult day, I was packing up to go home. I was tired and my back ached. I was hungry. I was in a bad mood. I just wanted to get home and into bed. As I was putting my jacket on to go outside, a coworker came up to me with an envelope in her hand. She handed it to me and said that one of my patients asked her to give it to me before I left.
On the front of the envelope was my name, written in blue crayon in a child’s scrawl. I knew immediately who it was from. Maisie was a 7-year-old who came in regularly to receive treatment for a chronic disease. She was one of my favorites. I opened the envelope to find a piece of paper folded like a card. On the front were written the words “To the best nurse ever.” I paused. This couldn’t be for me, could it?
I opened the handmade card. Inside were two drawn figures, labeled with mine and Maisie’s names. The figures were smiling. There were also the words: “Thank you for taking care of me when I’m sick. You are really nice and the best nurse ever!” Blue hearts were scattered all around.
And there, as I had one arm through my jacket, I began to weep. After months of feeling not good enough, of feeling worn down and useless, I finally felt like I was making some kind of difference. This little girl, who was so often in pain and scared, was grateful for me, was happy that I was around, and even remembered that my favorite color was blue.
When I received this beautiful card, I finally realized that I was making a difference. I understood that not everyone has the childlike innocence and confidence to draw out a card, or write a note, or even say it out loud that they are grateful. I understood that while I may not be thanked by everyone, I am truly making a difference in my career.
The value of a nurse is immeasurable. If you ever find yourself wondering if you matter, if you make a difference, or if you have any significance, let me tell you right now that you do. You are needed in the medical community and you do make a difference to patients.
As you go throughout your day as a nurse, take time to really reflect on all the good you do. It’s true that you may not receive verbal or written thanks from patients or coworkers, but if you can fully recognize the good you are doing, it doesn’t matter if others say anything about it.
I urge you to never give up on your nursing journey. As part of this esteemed and time-honored profession, you are such an important part of people’s lives. Never forget that what you do matters, even if you don’t always see it.