We were recently touched by a video taken at Vanderbilt University Medical Center here in Nashville that showed a young nurse singing to her dying patient. The video, which was posted to Facebook by the patient’s family and viewed millions of times, spoke volumes about the comfort and compassion the best nurses bring to their patients. In the video, the nurse looks intently into her patient’s eyes, reassuring her with a smile and caressing her hand while singing one of her favorite songs to her.
Presence, which is often as simple as sitting with patients through their pain, listening to their fears, holding their hand or just saying “I’m here,” is the cornerstone of caregiving. Despite their hectic schedules and demanding workload, most nurses strive to provide empathetic care to each patient they encounter. That may be why nursing remains the most trusted profession, according to polls conducted by Gallup over the last 15 years.
But the emotional intensity of tending to patients day after day in a place where pain and suffering are constant realities can take a toll on even the best nurses. In past surveys conducted by the American Nursing Association, nearly half of all nurses reported feeling exhausted and discouraged at the end of their shifts, while nearly a quarter admitted to worrying about patients after hours. Nurses grapple not only with compassion fatigue, but also with not being able to spend as much time with each patient as they would like due to staffing shortages that force them to take on extra duties and more patients.
Clinical leaders often lack visibility into what the true patient demand is like on their floors, leaving nursing teams overwhelmed and stretched thin. Nurses struggle with burnout as a result, and some even drop out of the profession altogether because of it. Real-time technologies like our next-generation nurse call system offer hospitals an antidote to this dilemma, providing nurse managers with an easy, fast way to identify which rooms need the most attention and keep their pulse on the demand throughout the floor. Our platform collects point-of-care data at the bedside, tracking alarms and alerts in real time and producing visualized, actionable reports that clinical leaders can view anytime to best allocate resources and improve workload balance. These insights can also provide a deeper look at what patients really want and need and free nurses up to spend more time focusing with each patient and being present for them.
Nurses can support patients better physically and emotionally if they’re able to focus on each one in the moment without feeling guilty about getting pulled away or worrying about where they need to be next, said Marcus Engel, founder of the I’m Here Movement, a nonprofit group that trains clinical teams in delivering mindful care. In a recent webinar sponsored by The Beryl Institute, Engel asked nurses: What’s getting in the way of being actively present for your patients? For many, it’s not a lack of empathy, but all the tasks that get in the way of interacting with patients and the emotional and physical demands of the job that leave them feeling depleted. Nurses can stay resilient by being attentive to their own needs and taking a moment to step away or check their emotions when they’re feeling stressed.
“Being present is the most healing thing we can do for ourselves,” Engel said. “Taking time to sit quietly, breathe and just be can reduce stress and anxiety.” He recommended these three tips for nurses who want to practice more mindful care.
Write about your day. At the end of a shift, take 10 minutes to reflect on the high points and low points of your day. What did you do right? What would you do differently? Journaling can help you put situations in perspective and reflect on how much of a difference you have made, despite the fatigue you feel or obstacles you faced.
Center yourself with a mantra. When you put on your scrubs before work or step into the elevator on the way to a shift, set an intention for the day and repeat it silently, such as “I will be patient with those who need me.” “I will practice communication and compassion.” “I will remember that hurting people hurt people.”
Breathe. If your shift has gotten too stressful or a patient encounter has shaken you up, take five minutes and sit down in a comfortable place. Roll your shoulders back, shake the tension from your body, and inhale and exhale deeply. When anxious thoughts arise, notice them like you would if you were watching leaves flow down a stream or clouds floating across the sky and let them pass by, Engel said.