Last week I reached out of my comfort zone to attend an encaustic art workshop. As participants introduced themselves, we were asked to answer the question, “Are you an artist?”
“No way,” I thought to myself. But then I remembered last week’s webinar on my favorite topic: A Passion for the Art of Nursing.
What is the art of nursing? And why is it important when many nurses are struggling to get a break or summon the courage to show up for the next shift?
According to Jenner, nursing is the “Intentional creative use of oneself based upon skill and expertise, to transmit emotion and meaning to another.” It is important because connection is the essence of our profession and critical to healing. There is no other profession that embraces both art and science so fully. The same hand that titrates a dopamine drip will hold the hand of a dying patient. And sometimes there is no medical intervention, no medication, no therapy—except Nursing.
“No one is doing anything about my brain tumor,” Cary screamed from her bed. I was covering for another nurse who was at lunch when I remembered nightshift’s report. During rounding, the doctor had told the 32-year-old patient that her brain tumor was inoperable. The plan was for her to stay a few days for osmolytes to shrink the tumor before a discharge home with hospice. In report, they said the patient was “on board with the plan,” but now this “on-board” patient was screaming.
As I opened the door, Cary was inhaling deeply to scream again. I asked, “Do you like chocolate covered strawberries?”
“What?” she replied, and then, “Yes, I do.”
“Then call the kitchen and order three Hershey bars and a bowl of strawberries but ask them not to cut the strawberries.”
And then I ran out of the room, pain pills in hand for another patient. Quickly, I grabbed a clipboard and on a clean sheet of paper wrote, “Care Plan for Cary” Number one: Make chocolate covered strawberries. Then I numbered to 10 and returned with the clipboard, asking Cary what else she wanted to do in the time she had left. All afternoon she pensively penned eight lines.
Three months later Cary returned to our neuro unit in a coma and died a few days later. When the family found me, they said, “Cary wanted you to know that she crossed off all eight lines on her plan.”
What could be more rewarding?
My nursing professor taught me to pay attention to the feeling. This patient was feeling totally helpless, so the “medicine” was any semblance of control over her life.
Every nurse I know has dozens of stories like these where they have made a dramatic difference in a patient’s life. Nurses use their intuition, and an anticipatory sixth sense when “something is not right.” These skills increase with experience and truly save lives. Practicing the “art of nursing” gives us energy and restores our souls, our value, our passion. It reminds us why we became nurses and fills us with gratitude for this wonderful profession.
Suddenly, it was my turn. “Are you an artist?”
“Yes”, I replied, “with people…I am a nurse.
- Every time you go thru the threshold of a patient’s door, stop for 10 seconds. Inhale deeply pulling energy up from the center of the earth to your heart; exhale pulling light from the stars to your heart.
- Take the opportunity this Thanksgiving to share one of your stories with your family.
Jenner CA. The art of nursing: a concept analysis. Nurs Forum. 1997 Oct-Dec;32(4):5-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6198.1997.tb00970.x. PMID: 9534552
Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.
All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses. Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners. She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.
Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.