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May 6-12, 2022 is National Nurses Week – a time to recognize and celebrate these essential health care workers.
Nursing is more challenging than ever as patient needs have become more complicated. Nurses continually increase their skills to provide the highest levels of patient care.
Providence Chief Nursing Officer, Dr. Syl Trepanier, recently talked with two nurses about the joys and challenges of being a nurse.
Nurses are frontline health care providers. Currently, 4.3 million work in hospitals nationwide, and there’s a growing need for more. In celebration of National Nurses Week this month, we’re highlighting the tireless efforts of our critical access and acute care nurses. On any given day, they can deliver babies, administer cancer therapies or treat traumas.
Recently, we listened to a conversation between Dr. Syl Trepanier, Providence chief nursing officer and host of the Nursing Unfiltered podcast, and Providence nurses Cynthia (Cindy) Clements and Chris Cothran where they shared details about what it means to be a nurse. Here are some highlights.
The Nursing Unfiltered podcast is produced by Providence Health System.
Q. Thanks for joining us today, Cindy and Chris. Please tell our listeners a bit about your background.
Cynthia: I’m a registered nurse at Providence Valdez Medical Center, a critical access hospital in Valdez, Alaska, six hours from Anchorage. My nursing career began at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in the emergency department after I was an EMT in the Matanuska Valley.
Chris: I’ve been a medical oncology bedside nurse at Providence for 33 years. I’m also a charge resource nurse, so I run new-hire and new-graduate orientation. Both my husband and my son also work here.
Let’s give people an idea of what it’s like to be a nurse. Describe a typical day.
Cindy: I’ll give you a bit of context. Providence is a 21-bed facility. We work on the 11-bed acute care side. On a good day, we staff three to four nurses with certified nursing assistants. They work collaboratively in medical-surgical nursing, obstetrics, emergency, operating room and any outpatient ambulatory services.
We live in a remote recreational area, so we see high acuity patients but at lower volumes. At any point during the day, we can be in labor and delivery, have a trauma patient come in via helicopter, or deal with heart attacks, lung problems, or outpatient infusions for multiple conditions.
With a wide variety of patients coming to the hospital, how do you prepare and develop the necessary competencies?
Cindy: It’s a constant effort. Our nurses need six certifications to work in the emergency department, so we always have classes. We developed a clinical academy to help new graduates and fellow RNs transition into our high acuity, high liability areas, such as obstetrics and the emergency department. Training and orienting someone to do medical-surgical or ambulatory services is easier because the learning curve is longer.
Even with training complexities, there’s a huge demand for nurses. However, supply is uncertain. Is it tougher to recruit or retain nurses?
Cindy: Both are difficult, but it’s harder to recruit especially because we live in a remote, dark, snowy location. It’s not an easy workplace to enter, and it can be intimidating. But we’ve worked hard over the past few years to develop a smooth workflow.
Even though many nurses are strong in one department, it can be overwhelming to step into an environment that has multiple specialties. People get nervous if they’re not quite ready to jump in and tackle the learning curve. It does force folks away.
The last two-and-a-half years have been particularly challenging, but you and your colleagues never waiver. What motivates you to keep showing up every day – what feeds your soul as a nurse?
Chris: It’s been a difficult time. Nurses are burned out, and they’re leaving. Our situation is tough because it’s hard to take care of our different patient populations.
But love and support from our patients motivate me. Appreciative patients reignite the reason you become a nurse – they’re a constant reminder of why you still show up.
I’ve delivered a baby outside the hospital door, and I’ve spoken at my patient’s funeral. It’s a huge range, and there’s no other profession where you can do that. It’s the patients that make the difference.
You said the word we’ve heard too often regarding nursing – burnout. There’s no silver bullet, but how do you combat it?
Chris: We’re like a second family, and we try to make things enjoyable. We’ll plan special days to make things more fun, and we’ll hold on to those moments because we know days will get better. It’s OK to have bad days and be burned out – just remember to be there for one another. Great leadership is also critical to feeling validated and supported.
Cindy: Remember that giving your best doesn’t mean giving your all. We can give our best when we show up, recognizing some days will be hard. Be transparent with those feelings and seek help from a friend, a co-worker or a manager.
Self-care and setting boundaries are important. Being a health care provider is demanding. Get good sleep, eat healthily, and talk to someone if you’re struggling.
Given all of that, how important is having your team around you?
Cindy: Valdez has a very family-oriented culture with a sense of belonging. We offer support when someone struggles. We face challenges together and encourage each other. I couldn’t be prouder of every person I work with.
Chris: We work together in micro-teams. We call on each other to discuss patients so we can spend more time with them and tailor the care we provide.
What has been the most defining moment in your nursing career?
Chris: There are two. I cared for one lovely man for seven years. He had his hospital life and his home life. When he passed, his mother asked if I’d speak at his funeral because no one else was privy to his hospital life. It was a huge moment. The other was delivering the baby outside the hospital.
Cindy: I had one cancer patient who asked me to pray with her because she was dying and her family, who lived across the country, couldn’t be with her. It’s so important to be present in those tender moments with our patients. We work in a rapidly changing environment, so we need to capture those powerful times and remember why we do this.
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