During my tenure as a medical humanist at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center (2002-2005) I was an eyewitness to the complexities of communication between doctors, nurses, patients, and family members.
Recognizing that this is National Nurses Week, I find myself catapulted back in time, recalling the many nurses I admired. It was my good fortune to not only work with oncology nurses at the cancer center but also those on “the floor” when I visited cancer patients who were hospitalized. Donna Dier, in her article “To Profess…to be a professional” (Nursing Trends and Issues, 1990), “Nurses observe, listen, test, assess, diagnose, manage, treat and cure.”
One nurse in particular comes to mind—Jules Bowen. Why her? At that time (2004) she was an Associate degree RN with a Bachelor of Arts in English and taking a course in Leadership to complete her BS in nursing. Jules asked to shadow me.
“Why me?” I asked
“It’s how your role was described,” she said.
I, of course, understood the struggle to clarify my position on the healthcare team but it didn’t take me long to discover the challenges nurses encountered at the crossroads between doctors, patients, families and the institution. I asked myself if balancing difficult clinical responsibilities and multiple relationships were innate to nurses’ personalities or acquired in training. I’m not sure but what I know is nurses are masterful jugglers.
In an effort to support the nursing staff we (Center for Communication in Medicine) offered a program titled the “Nurses Conversation Hour,” which, incidentally, was funded by the hospital. The program provided a setting for nurses to discuss and write about professional challenges such as: communicating with patients who are unrealistic about prognosis; addressing loved ones who try to interfere with the treatment plan; and working with doctors who are not respectful of their role on the healthcare team. Listening to and reading the nurses’ stories left me with an even deeper appreciation of the complexities of their role and how they navigate what can be a slippery slope. Shadow a nurse and you’ll see what I mean.
Celia Engel Bandman