In the American health system, the profession of nursing holds a special place. It is the largest health care profession globally where millions of professional nurses work in diverse settings and fields. While most nurses work in hospitals, their knowledge and skills extend well beyond the walls. Working independently and with other health care professionals to promote health of individuals, families, and communities. Millions of Americans turn to nurses to deliver adequate health care services, education, advice and counseling. The history of nursing is integrated with many different practices, people, and settings that aided development and will continue to advance what we call modern nursing. Nursing is an indispensable service to the American public, guided by empathy to promote the well-being of individuals and society.
In all of our species’ history nursing has been there, but it was not always treated as a profession. Women of many households treated ill members of their family and community where knowledge and practices were passed down through generations. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the profession expanded to care for soldiers during time of war. One of the most influential nurses was Florence Nightingale, who served as a nurse during the Crimean War as she set standards of cleanliness and sanitary reforms, which decreased overall presence of infections. She also developed early guidelines and training for other nurses. In return, thousands of women volunteered as a domestic duty to care for wounded soldiers during the American Civil War. The nation was beginning to understand the importance nurses held during times of war, disasters and society. In the twentieth century, the implementation of programs and organizations created to discuss challenges of the nursing profession evolved. Nursing schools began to offer university-level curriculum for students to gain further education and advanced degrees in nursing. Nurses now perform many procedures that were once restricted only to doctors. I believe that the profession of nursing has helped break down barriers, extend boundaries, and advanced services that strive to take care of others.
Nurses encourage health promotion, educate patients and public on illness and injury, give care, aid in cure, rehabilitation participation and grant support. There is not another profession in the health care system that has such an expansive and significant reach. With the help and guidance of nurses, families are able to learn about healthier living by understanding the impact of emotional, physical, mental and cultural experiences they deal with daily and how it relates to their illness or condition. Nurses are able to help individuals and their families develop coping skills so the individual’s other aspects of life can continue to progress. Their constant presence, observation skills, and diligence enable doctors to make accurate diagnoses and suggest efficient treatments. Nurses have been able to save lives because of their ability to pick up on early warning signs of a future crisis.
Nurses make a difference in someone’s life because of empathy. According to Vincent and Archbold (1997) empathy is ‘to develop interpersonal skills, where the ability to empathize is often equated with the ability to care for the person as an individual.’ (106) On a daily basis, nurses witness a patient’s pain and must provide service without judging or blaming. They must understand a patient’s needs, wants, fears and coping skills. A person in crisis needs a skilled nurse who has developed active listening in order to perform her duties while attending to the needs of the patient. A nurse is there to explain to the individual and family what to expect through the progression of the illness or condition. A mutual bond is formed between a nurse and patient through honesty, understanding and empathy. According to Ashworth (1980) there are ‘four main aims of nurse-client communication [‘] to develop a relationship in which clients perceived the nurse as being friendly, competent, reliable and helpful and as appreciating the client’s individuality and worth; to establish clients’ needs as seen by them; to provide information which can be used by clients to structure their expectations; to help clients to use their individual resources and those made available to them.’ (qtd. in Reynolds & Scott 228) These are all indicators of a successful nurse patient relationship, which require empathy. When a patient is admitted, their relationship with the assigned nurse(s) is ongoing and developing depending on the patient’s severity of their condition. With empathy, the relationship will continue to grow stronger. A patient or client will have a hard time trusting a nurse if they do not see them as helpful. Also, if a nurse fails to understand a client’s needs, then it will be challenging to address their needs and responses to health problems. Failing to provide necessary information to the patient and their families will indicate that the nurse isn’t committed to them. Most importantly, if a nurse doesn’t use their resources and skills effectively, the patient is at risk of not reaching optimal health. If the patient is unable to trust the nurse and develop an open-ended relationship, it is unlikely that the nurse will accurately meet the patient’s needs. High levels of empathy that nurses demonstrate reduce relief including pain, unstable pulse and respiratory rates, worry and anxiety. Emotional support will always help someone overcome a situation that is unpleasant, especially if it’s coming from a stranger who cares about your well-being and wants it to improve.
In society, nurses are there to take care of individuals when they need it the most. Sometimes when an individual is in the hospital or intensive care unit a nurse could be the only one there to assist the patient in passing. In class, we discussed the poem ‘There is No Such Thing as the Moment of Death’ by Marilyn Krysl as it examines that there is no moment of death only a beginning for eternity and the importance of a person being there through passing through support and comfort. In the opening lines, Krysl writes, ‘When he saw me, he said, ‘I’m not going to / Make it.’ Well when they say that / They know. People can tell. You don’t’. (2-4) The patient senses and describes that his time is coming to an end. The patient is scared and doesn’t want to be alone. The nurse is there to comfort him through physical touch and a sense of relaxation. The nurse proceeds to make her patient as comfortable as possible, a necessary duty of the profession. Most importantly, the poem concludes that during death it is extremely important to have loved ones or someone by your side to reflect, express emotions and assist in passing. Another poem we discussed in class was ‘The Body Flute’ by Cortney Davis as she discusses the personal relationship a nurse has with her patient both living and after their death. Davis writes, ‘I clean you like a mother does. / That which you allow no one / You allow me.’ (32-34) This describes the unique way a nurse interacts with his or her patient, whom is allowed to help the patient in certain ways others wouldn’t. In return, the nurse and patient both feel a special attachment towards one another and a bond is formed through empathy. Another instant where the nurse shows empathy is where Davis writes, ‘That I could wait and not be / Frightened away.’ (48-49) It is the trust and knowing that the nurse will never turn away no matter how bad or worsen the condition becomes. The nurse will be there to aid the patient through their entire process, which demonstrates that the nurse wants to understand the patient’s feelings and work to assist their needs.
In life, many things and events don’t start as you intended to or are a major disappointment that could affect not only your life but also others around you. As a toddler, I was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. I spent many months in the hospital due to fatigue, weakness and weight loss. It was a very hard time for myself and family because of the unknown. During my hospital admittance, family and myself became very close with the attending nurses and have belief that because of their help my life was saved and I am currently in remission. It was not only that they gave me the right medicine, diagnosis and treatments, but also it was their constant presence and emotional support that kept others and myself positive and sane. The bond that I have with the nurses that assisted me is still strong today because of their commitment. The nurses showed empathy to me when I needed it the most. Their compassion and skills gave me a second chance at life and I learned to love life again. Their qualities saved my life with the most important one being empathetic. With any experience in life the most critical element is the relationships we make and how both sides are affected. Naturally, one would like every relationship to be positive, but that isn’t always the case without empathy. It is the rare relationships that we hold close to our heart that affect our history, impact and lives forever.
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