As we celebrate the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, we are reminded that she was the founder of modern nursing. As many of us know, in addition to managing and training nurses, she cared for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. As a result of her leadership, dedication, and resilience, she gave nursing a favorable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture. The most notable for me in the persona of “The Lady with the Lamp,” making rounds of wounded soldiers at night (“Florence Nightingale,” 2019). She was the first trauma nurse.
There have been many situations over the years that have caused people to be injured. This past year was the 150th anniversary of the opening of Boston Children's Hospital. On the original hospital admission registry, seven out of the first 10 patients were admitted due to an injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistical data published in 2018, and for several decades prior, we know injury has been the leading cause of death for people aged 1–44 years (CDC, 2019). The need to take care of someone who has been injured, no matter the circumstances of everyday life accidents or war, has occurred as far back as can be remembered.
So the question is, what is a trauma nurse? You won't find the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. I believe this is because the breadth of the description cannot be put into a few words or even a sentence. It is more than that. When I say I'm a trauma nurse, people often say, “So you work in the emergency department?” My response is usually, “trauma care is across the continuum.” When I go into more depth and detail during my reply, I explain that trauma nurses are not only in the emergency department but also on transport teams, in the intensive care unit, the floor, and in rehabilitation units, all caring for injured patients. All of these units or phases of care are steps along a patient's path to recovery from an event that may have changed his or her life forever. The role of a trauma nurse crosses many different disciplines, and caring for an injured patient draws on a nurse's critical thinking skills. It brings its own challenges as does any other disease diagnosis.
A trauma nurse is someone who specializes in the care of patients who suffer an injury, whether unintentional or, sadly, intentional. They are nurses who are skilled in caring for patients of all ages, from infancy to the elderly. Trauma nurses need to be able to function in a high-stress, chaotic environment while maintaining a calm demeanor. Trauma nurses have strength and self-confidence and know sacrifice. There's an element of risk, though, to being a trauma nurse. Sometimes you don't know anything about a patient who is unstable and actively bleeding. Assuming exposure to blood-borne pathogens and maintaining personal protective equipment are imperative and become second nature. They are someone who has strength, is resilient, dedicated, and can adapt to change while being persistent and always seeking out resources to stay current in practice. As in many areas, effective communication is essential in trauma nursing. This is most prominently shown in the ability to multitask, often performing lifesaving measures while directing care or reporting to physicians and other members of the medical team.
Injury doesn't discriminate. It happens to innocent bystanders as well as those who are careless or think they are invincible. It also happens to those who experience emotional, addictive, or behavioral disturbances. Similarly, the shock from the trauma can make a patient confused and agitated. Regardless of the situation, trauma nurses treat the injured equally. They see the humanity and light in the injured and who are suffering. They treat them as individuals in a caring and compassionate way. Trauma nurses also need to be able to handle the emotional strain that is involved in caring for a trauma patient. All too often, there is a poor outcome. These are poignant examples of how light overcomes darkness.
Every day trauma nurses make a difference in someone's life. Their passion for the role is palpable. Their light shines during an injured patient's darkest moments. It is seen in our patients' strength for believing in who they are and what they become as they navigate toward a brighter path and, for some, their new normal. You can't help but think the soldiers were comforted when they saw the lamplight, knowing that Florence Nightingale was on her way. The same can be said about today's trauma nurses whose light shines to inspire and give hope to the injured.
The light we shine is not only for patients but also for each other. Those who have let their light shine brightly so that I could follow a path of professional growth, both within my home institution and in the Society of Trauma Nurses (STN) organization, have had a great influence in my life. The STN and its members have been my inspiration in my development as a trauma nurse and a leader. There have been so many great opportunities to participate in initiatives that empower our members and, in turn, make a difference in the way we care for people in their time of crisis. The boundaries of STN's reach to provide professional growth are not limited to the national level but are worldwide. Advanced Trauma Care for Nurses courses are provided in countries all over the world, and we are extremely proud of new STN's Global Trauma Quality Improvement Taskforce.
It doesn't matter where your role on the trauma path lies: bedside nurse, advanced practice provider, educator, or manager; let your light shine for others. Whether it's a patient looking for a brighter future beyond the dark time of injury or for a colleague who is seeking direction toward professional growth. Remember this, “When you find yourself in a position to help someone, be happy and feel blessed because God is answering that person's prayer through you. Remember: Our purpose on earth is not to get lost in the dark but to be a light to others so that they may find a way through us” (Alberto Casing). Always let your light shine!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (CDC). (2019). Ten leading causes of death and injury. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/LeadingCauses.html
Florence Nightingale. In Wikipedia. (2019, April 3). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FlorenceNightingale