Awhile back I had the opportunity to have the experience of being a patient at one of our local hospitals.  Just thinking about having to go to the hospital makes me cringe for a variety of reasons – most of which have to do with my background in healthcare and “knowing enough to be dangerous”.  I grew up in healthcare beginning my career as a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit and then recovery room.  I moved into nursing management fairly quickly though maintained skills in clinical practice as a manager.  In my work in administration, (hospital, physician practice and healthplan) my clinical background and experience were an advantage giving me perspective and language that allowed for more complete understanding and communication.  This holds true today in my work as a coach and consultant.  I am connected and enjoy working within the healthcare arena. 

I vividly recall experiencing healthcare from the patient’s perspective as I had some outpatient surgery.  Happy to report all is well and I was sent home a few hours after the surgery.  I’ve had a few surgeries over the course of my life experience and all have ended well though the experience and interaction with the hospital staff has not always been very pleasant.  Most of the time I had the “let me out of here before they hurt me” experience.  Some of my own anxiety and fear, knowing enough to be dangerous 🙂 of course.  Along with this though, I found interactions a few years back with the nursing and support staff that were uncomfortable and left me wondering why these people were working in healthcare.

Fast forward to this experience – I found people working in the hospital this time who really seemed to care about the patient and there were systems to support their work.  I checked in at 7am and was given a pager – the kind you get at a restaurant when you have to wait awhile.  Rather than call your name into the crowded waiting room, your pager lights up.  My husband kept the pager while he waited so he could be located even if he was not in the immediate area.  My nurse was equipped with a portable telephone that allowed her to call directly to the waiting area when she needed additional information or to let the staff know to send my husband back to wait with me.  As a patient, I was happy to know he could wander a little bit and still be found so as not to miss being available when needed. 

I especially appreciate the nursing staff.  They were pleasant and supportive in their work and seemed to care not only about me, but about each patient in the area from what I could hear and see.  There were several nurses who took care of me that day who I learned had been at the bedside as a nurse for 25 – 30 years and this is where they wanted to stay.  One nurse told me of her mother who recently retired from nursing at the age of 70 after 50 years at the bedside.  How exciting!

Certainly it’s not easy working at the bedside for 20, 30 or 50 years.  My nurse mentioned that while she’d been tapped for management positions along the way, she never had a desire to get into that arena.  And there should not be a reason why anyone would think they have to move into management.  It’s a whole other area of expertise and experience that some enjoy and others do not.  Each is valued in its own right.

Johnson and Johnson launced a campaign a few years back in conjunction with the nursing associations for education and attention about nursing to encourage recruitment and retention into the profession .  The videos and stories are inspiring and acknowledge the value and contribution nurses make as professionals.  Worth watching if you’ve never seen and make sure you have some tissues handy.

It wasn’t so hard to be a patient this past week.  While I certainly don’t want to do this again, I very much appreciate and acknowledge the expertise, care and commitment of the nurses I met during this experience.  It is one experience and one hospital though my hope is that the work occurring here is occurring elsewhere and while we have a long way to go in improving healthcare in the US, committed, qualified and caring nurses provides a great foundation.

Florence Nightingale said it so eloquently:

“Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art,it requires as exclusive devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work;

for what is the having to do with dead canvas or cold marble,compared with having to do with the living body – the temple of God’s spirit?

It is one of the Fine Arts:I had almost said,The finest of the Fine Arts.” – Florence Nightingale

(From Nursing: The Finest Art, An Illustrated History by M. Patricia Donahue, Ph.D., R.N.)

(Original post 2008)