When it’s performed at its best, nursing is about passion. It’s about having the passion to use our knowledge and skills to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I like to refer to that passionate, engaged state when we’re functioning at top form – when we’re not only caring for our patients but also connecting with them as human beings – as ‘the art of nursing’. I believe it’s an idea that all of us aspire to live up to in our day-to-day roles.
Sometimes, however, it can feel like that passion is being chipped away and eroded by the demands of practice. An alarming number of nurses today report feeling stressed. They’re feeling as if they’re being asked to do more with less. They’re stressed. They’re anxious. Some are even dealing with feelings of moral distress.
There’s a name for this state of task-driven care. It’s called ‘production line nursing’. It’s what happens when the overwhelming demands before us turn each shift into a race against the clock to complete a ‘to-do’ list. When that happens, we risk losing that human connection to care – that piece of practice which is empathetic and passionate. We risk losing the ability to build a connection with the patient that encompasses mind, body and soul. We risk losing the ability, as nurses, to be self-aware with a high degree of emotional intelligence. To communicate and to listen. To be technically strong with a thirst for knowledge. And ultimately, these things that we risk losing are many of the very qualities that make for a great nurse.
So, what can we do to try to maintain the art of nursing in these busy and challenging times? Part of the answer will have to do with coordination of care and ensuring that, one way or another, enough time is provided for that care. Part of it will depend on being able to say ‘no’ when you know the quality of practice and the time to care will be lost if you take on more than you can handle. I know. Easier said than done. But keep in mind that at the end of the day, if there is a breach of practice, each of us is personally accountable for how we maintain our standards of practice.
A delightful young practical nursing student accompanied me during my rounds recently. Our time together provided a wonderful opportunity for me to reflect on the incoming cohort of new nursing grads. As they prepare to enter the workforce, there’s no doubt that these students have the know-how and the skills they’ll need to thrive in this profession. Equally important, however (and this is a good reminder for all of us), is the manner in which that knowledge and those skills are implemented. It’s about the way we’re able to connect with our patients and take the time to listen to them. It’s about making a point of staying true to the holistic practice of what it is that we do. It’s about actually prioritizing these elements in our day-to-day jobs and making them part of our nursing practice. That’s the way to move nursing off the production line and to help maintain the passion and the art of nursing.
Anne McKenzie, President