When I became a new nurse 21 years ago, a friend asked me what I did at the hospital when I worked those long 12-hour night shifts.

His thoughts were that the patients were asleep, so it was probably a job where you hung out and drank coffee all night. I walked him through what I usually did on a 12-hour, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. night shift, including most of the tasks and requirements of the job from receiving report at the start of the shift to giving report at the end of the shift.

I thought of this telling of what nurses do some 20 years later and I wondered if I included what we are really charged with doing as nurses: supporting the healing of those we care for. Did I focus on all of the tasks and duties I would complete during that 12-hour shift? Or did I also include the time spent rubbing backs, holding hands, saying prayers, educating, and supporting patients and their loved ones?

Did I include the story about the time I had to call a deaf woman and tell her husband had passed after she left for the evening? Or the time when the family asked me to increase the morphine drip rate because “the doctor said she would be dead before the morning and we are ready for her to be gone”? What about the man with ALS being kept alive on a ventilator and feeding tube who went for weeks at a time without a single visitor?

Nurses need to educate the public not just on all of the technical skills we do each day to support good medical care, and on the healing aspects of our unique work as nurses. We were likely “called” to be a nurse because we wanted to make a difference — we have developed skills that support us in creating caring-healing environments for patients.

Nurses should be making it clear to the public that we are committed to our own health and healing, knowing that we can’t support others through health challenges if we are not also managing our own health and well being. As nurses, we need to support one another in our own healing processes, and strive toward role-modeling what self-care and stress management look like in action.

A recent study showed that supporting nursing and creating “good nursing environments,” with adequate nurse staffing, leads to better long term patient outcomes, with fewer deaths one-month post surgery.

It pays for hospitals to invest in having enough nurses, in treating those nurses well, and supporting nurses in what we have been called to do: create healing environments that support patients toward their greatest health potential. Health care facilities need to be moved to support nurses in managing their stress and enacting self-care in order to also increase the healing of the patients these facilities serve.

Good staffing is just the beginning of creating “good nursing environments,” and nurses should be empowered to begin dialog with their employers regarding what is a “good work environment for nurses.”

Carey Clark is committed to supporting the growth of caring-healing capacity of health care providers, and the healing of the patients they serve. She is an assistant professor of nursing in the University of Maine at Augusta’s RN-BSN Program, where she has been teaching since 2010.

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