Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Future of Nursing

This week I got to do one of the most gratifying things I do as a patient advocate.  I got to speak to a group of nursing students and share our experiences in health care.  For someone who wants changes in health care this is the place you have to go.  The schools where they are taught to be nurses.

Many times I will say that we are more than just a patient story.  Many patients and caregivers have some very clear ideas on the state of health care and what should be done at a policy level.  This is not that kind of discussion.  These classes are about learning from experience.  The patient experience.  We just relax and share our story.  It is about being a human being.  No hidden agendas.  No preconceived ideas.

The class we attend is part of the 2nd year nursing program at Red River College.  Several other volunteers participate in story-telling and a panel discussion.  We have done this for several years now.  It is not an easy thing to do but it is well worth it.

For the students this is an opportunity to hear real-life examples of how they (as nurses) may impact or play a role in someone’s patient journey.  For us, as caregivers, it is an opportunity to share our experiences in health care and try to explain to these aspiring nurses what it’s like to be on the other end of the health care system.  It’s also good therapy.

The best part for me, in these sessions, are the questions the nursing students ask.  Their genuine concern and compassion for patients.  I have no idea what kind of nurses these students will become but I am confident that at one point in time their intentions to enter the nursing profession were noble and genuine.  The feedback we receive is very affirming of the future of nursing.

One of the difficulties I struggle with is what happens to these students once they graduate.  They enter the health care profession that is far from perfect.  They will be exposed to many of the failings of our health care system.  There is no doubt that the zeal they once showed in nursing school will be tempered by the harsh realities of the nursing profession.  Some will become complacent in their approach to nursing and caring for their patients.  I know that is a very pessimistic view but it is a real possibility.

It was pointed out to me that last week; on every day there was a news story in the local Winnipeg media that discussed a failure, in our health care system, to provide adequate care and compassion at a time when a patient needed it most.  These are failures of no one person but several people involved from various disciplines.  For me it is difficult to rationalize seeing very genuine and caring nursing students, like I spoke to earlier this week, eventually being in a position where they too could choose to ignore the needs of a patient.  This is the reason those of us who share our experiences volunteer our time and our emotions.

The patient experience is profoundly powerful not only on an emotional level but as a teaching tool.  I have shared and heard many patient stories.    I enjoy hearing how others approach being an advocate for a loved one. I always walk away having learned something.  This is also why I enjoy sharing our stories at Red River.  I get to meet and share with other caregivers who share their own experiences.  Such a unique and knowledgeable group. 

I know the nursing profession is an extremely challenging field.  It is difficult going to work day after day with the same level of commitment that you had as an idealistic student.  I am sure there are times when nurses question their choice of careers.  I certainly don’t want to minimize the many issues facing nurses but when you sit in one of these classes and hear, first-hand experiences, from patients and caregivers; the effect is profound.  I wish more nurses, the veterans of 15 and 20 years could hear more of these experiences.  It may just make another day of the “same old” seem a little more relevant.  Thanks nurses for all you do.

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