I recently had the privilege of hearing, listening, and engaging with Sue Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior advisor for nursing at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sue was the study director for the Institute of Medicine's 2010 Future of Nursing report, which has steered our profession's action agenda for the past 8 years. She has many other accomplishments, nationally and internationally, but that isn't what's driving me to write about her message; rather, it's her experience last year when her beloved husband had a tragic bicycle accident, leading to his death days later. It changed her and should change all of us. This is about caring and true patient/family centeredness.
How many of you are afraid, like she was, to utter the words nursing and caring in the same sentence? Does it make our discipline seem too soft? Absolutely not. I've been saying for years, and am now totally convinced, that nursing is both an art and a science, using the head and the heart, and embracing the left and right brain. We bring both science and the humanities to our patients; without both, it isn't nursing. At least, it isn't good nursing.
Sue Hassmiller experienced extraordinary nursing and also failures in the provision of healthcare. When was it extraordinary? When it came from the heart. When there was kindness. When there was interest and concern about both her and her husband as people who were suffering. It wasn't extraordinary, or even adequate, when the focus was on computers, or rules, or tasks. Or when she wasn't respected. Or when she or her husband weren't included in care planning. Nursing professionalism isn't just about clinical competence, it's also about human connections. This isn't negotiable.
You've heard of Jean Watson, PhD, RN, AHN-BC, FAAN, an Academy of Nursing Living Legend with 15 honorary doctorates. She's a brilliant woman, nurse, researcher, scientist, and more. Her theory of Caring Science is used all over the world, and it isn't soft! It's simply—and I emphasize simply because there's much more to it than this—a framework for presence and authentic, caring-healing-loving relationships. Yes, love. When you bring love to the table, it's magical and powerful. And that goes for leadership, too.
What about Relationship-Based Care? This is another framework that's widely used in nursing and returns us to the critical importance of relationships—with ourselves, each other, and our patients and their families—bringing meaning, compassion, and high quality to our work. It isn't soft either; you'll find thousands of scholarly articles on the topic by just doing a quick search.
If there's science to it and an obvious need, what's holding us back from embracing care and compassion as part of what we do? Why do I feel that I have to “sell” it? We need families to help us, and so do patients. We need nurses and patients to connect as human beings for a zillion reasons. Is caring not valued in our organizations, or even in the profession? Have the tasks become so burdensome that there's no room left to care? I don't mean to imply it never happens; you know it does with every compliment you receive, and those compliments are always about caring and compassion, aren't they? This IS what makes a difference to patients and families. Human connections.
You can read Sue Hassmiller's very moving blog or posted interviews. In her words, to honor her husband's legacy, she'll “strive to do all I can to keep this flame alive in nursing going forward.” As leaders, our impact on work culture and practice environments can and should keep that flame alive. Let's heed her words of wisdom and act on them.