Life-and-death situations, long days, tired feet, and emotionally draining shifts: this is a day in the life of a registered nurse.
But with the bad comes the good, like the cry of a newborn; administering a final treatment to a cancer patient heading for remission; or helping to save the life of a trauma victim.
Nurses are much more than bandage changers: they are an integral part of the complex but efficient care team that is charged with improving the wellbeing of the patients who depend on them.
National Nurses Week, according to the American Nurses Association website www.nursingworld.org, begins each year on May 6 and ends on May 12. In 1982 President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation declaring “National Recognition Day for Nurses” to be May 6, 1982. The ANA board of directors then expanded that recognition in 1992, designating May 6 through May 12 as permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week.
For 35-year-old registered nurse Jaime Thebo, nursing was a calling that started for her during her early years. “I always wanted to be a nurse; it was my childhood dream,” said Thebo, mom to two girls ages 7 and 11. “When I was pregnant with my second child, I chose to pursue my dream. I wanted to prove to myself and show my children that hard work and perseverance pays off.”
Married for 17 years to husband Allen, Thebo graduated from Fox Valley Technical College in May 2010 and works at New London Family Medical Center.
“I find joy in nursing when I see my patients bring a new life into this world and the happiness on their faces and the gratitude they feel for helping bring their miracle into this world,” said Thebo, “though one of the most difficult parts of being a nurse is death. Supporting the family members and following the wishes of the patient can be an emotional experience. Having supportive team members to lean on helps you keep going forward, and lets you know you did everything you could for your patient and their family.”
Thirty-nine-year-old Jenny Hansen graduated in 2006 from Fox Valley Technical College with her RN degree after working as a unit clerk in the hospital. “I wanted to increase my interaction with patients and their families.”
Hansen, who is mother to three and grandmother to one, finds working with the patients and helping them at difficult times in their life gratifying. “We make a difference, impact a life! Actually, impact many lives because we provide care to the family – not just the patient.”
And though a career as a nurse has its many blessings, it can be a shock to the system. For Hansen, the initial adjustment to working as a RN was a reality check. “It was the realization that you don’t leave work at the door – it goes with you. Those tough issues that you were dealing with during your shift, they don’t just leave your mind when you walk out the door. You think about them, you dream about them … years later they are still with you sometimes.”
It doesn’t take much to make a nurse’s day. As Hansen explained, being honest about your issues is necessary. “You need to tell me what’s going on in order for me to address it,” she said. “I’m here to meet your needs, to address the symptoms you are experiencing, to put the big picture together and help you get through the health crisis that you’re experiencing. To do that I need you to be truthful about what’s going on – and to be respectful in our interactions.”
Director of nursing Betty Jo Balzar, RN, MSN, CPHQ, at Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca, explained how nurses’ roles have changed since those pop culture images so common in the ’50s and ’60s. “I don’t think that people realize just what goes into a RN shift,” said Balzar. “The nurse is the conduit between the patient and the doctor. Physicians do a spectacular job with their assessments and putting forward a plan; nurses then have to look at that plan and carry it out.”
Because nurses serve as the information bridge between patient and provider, there is an extreme level of accountability for them each time they speak with a patient. “There is a large amount of trust necessary between a physician and the nursing staff,” added Balzar. “They have to know that we are assessing the patients accurately and that we are always looking at the entirety of the situation. Nursing is the weaver – we take all the information from many sources and we weave it together so the other disciplines are able to see that big picture and then act upon it.”
“When they come in the door, the nurses get reports on the patients they will be caring for and then they’re off,” she continued. “They need to be able to quickly assimilate what they’ve heard during 20 to 30 minutes about ‘why’ a patient came in initially and what that patient is exhibiting at the moment.”
Included in a nurses shift assessment is looking for physical signs like the patient’s vital signs, the sound of the lungs and urine passage, in addition to the psychosocial signs like complaints of pain and anxiety in the voice. “We look at the physician assessment findings and their notes/orders for the day, review any of the test results that have come in from labs, x-ray, or other discipline evaluations,” explained Balzar.
Balzar relayed that nurses do what a patient typically observes, like administer medications, help with patients’ daily care, start IVs, put in tubes or remove them and change dressings. However, what many of us don’t see is that each of those tasks has a critical thinking component behind it. When they administer medication, nurses are checking to make sure that the medication makes sense to give, if it will have any side affects, when it should start working and what indications the nurse may have to verify that. “We ask ourselves if there will be any interactions with other medications that you’re taking? Is this really the right medication that I have in my hand to give you? Are you the right patient? Is this the right time? All of these thoughts – and more – just for this one task,” elaborated Balzar.
As one might expect, Balzar stated that every day is different, every patient is different – but every day is a day that nurses make a difference in a life. “It is a great accountability, and not one to be taken lightly,” she said.
And as Thebo and Hansen agree, letting your nursing team know you are grateful for their support, appreciating their time and care keeps them going, especially when it’s busy. “Nursing is a great profession,” added Balzar, “And carries with it great accountability – lives are impacted every day.”