Putting your needs first can lead to improved patient outcomes
When I went to nursing school, students were expected to be independent and self-motivated. We were left on our own to figure out how to survive. Mine was not a unique experience and it was certainly not unique to nursing. Many college freshmen are told during orientation, “Look to your left, look to your right. In a year, half of you will be gone.” The culture in higher education is often one of fear of failure. While this may work well for some students, many are lost and lonely or feel inadequate and anxious. I believe that students, like all human beings, succeed better when they are encouraged and supported rather than discouraged and threatened.
But the intention of caring is not enough. Jean Watson, PhD, RN, AHN-BC, FAAN, founder and director of the Watson Caring Science Institute, says it is through the demonstration of concrete acts that the experience of care is achieved.1 To that end, we established at Chamberlain College of Nursing an educational philosophy and a culture that we call Chamberlain Care®. We believe that if we take extraordinary care of students, they will in turn take extraordinary care of the patients and families they serve in the future. Chamberlain Care includes a caring climate, but goes beyond the intention of caring to the concrete acts of providing students the resources they need to succeed. We provide robust academic and personal support through initiatives such as our Chamberlain Care® Student Success Model. This includes a Center for Academic Success on every campus that provides complimentary tutoring and workshops to all students, Student Success Strategy resources for all online post-licensure students, complimentary access to the ASPIRE student assistance program and many other resources designed to help students succeed in reaching their dreams. It is a combination of a culture of care and a commitment to providing resources and student support that helps students succeed who might otherwise struggle or fail.
Our vision is to graduate extraordinary nursing professionals who transform healthcare worldwide and we do that through our culture of care. To build the culture of care, Chamberlain focused on three things: caring for ourselves, caring for colleagues and caring for students to help them achieve their goals. We believe that students who are exposed to the concepts of care and service on a daily basis will internalize them, just as they internalize the knowledge and skills they need to master. This philosophy is built into everything we do at Chamberlain and is a key to student success.
Chamberlain Care is laser focused on student success through the education of extraordinary nurses that will go on to transform healthcare through their patient-centered approach to care. However, nurses have a dual-accountability – to themselves and their patients. In order to provide the skills, focus and level of care needed to transform a patient’s healthcare experience, nurses must address the first layer of care: care for self.
Achieving Chamberlain Care through Care for Self
The core of nursing is care for others. As nurses, we touch others’ lives in ways that few other professions do. We are called upon to demonstrate passion and resilience, confidence and critical thinking, while treating the whole individual in true person-centered care. While it is a rewarding and fulfilling career path, it is also demanding as healthcare becomes ever more complex and challenging. In such a demanding healthcare environment, it is important to remember that caring for yourself is essential, and can have a positive impact on your care for patients and families.
A study published in the Journal for Nurses in Professional Development revealed that nurses who demonstrate compassionate concern, openness and empathetic attention foster stronger patient relationships, which leads to patients being more active participants in their care plan.2 But how can nurses provide this level of care if their own wellness needs are not being met?
Teaching Care for Self in the Classroom
In order to realign a nurse’s focus to bringing the best of themselves so they can provide the best care for patients, the idea of self care must start with nurses in the classroom.
Through care, respect and professionalism, our faculty instills in student nurses the importance of care across all facets of the profession, including self care and its applications in the academic and clinical setting. By providing a supportive and positive environment that encourages lifelong learning, Chamberlain also equips students with strategies to practice self care in their daily lives and careers.
For many, self care means the obvious – getting enough sleep, eating well and finding healthy ways to deal with stress. But caring for our whole selves also involves addressing our intellectual needs, personal goals and desire to fulfill our potential as a nurse and as a human being.
That is why Chamberlain encourages students to pursue the advanced degrees that will prepare them to act as mentors and leaders who help others manage workplace stressors. Personally, furthering my education helped me gain confidence and helped me grow new areas of expertise and experience in scholarship and research.
Transforming Care Through Nursing Leadership
To be able to draw upon their strengths, nurses must be supported through care. Reflecting and fostering these qualities in future nurses must begin in the classroom and be reinforced continuously in the clinical setting through strong, thoughtful leadership that helps nurses understand and develop their own unique strengths.
Care for self and others must be supported at the organizational level, setting a tone that reverberates through management, shift leaders and, ultimately, the front lines, to support nurses at the individual level. Many healthcare organizations are embarking on a path of cultural transformation in recognition of a need to create an environment that supports nurses and other healthcare professionals through care as a necessary precursor to excellent patient care.
To promote the importance of putting self care into practice, clinical institutions are implementing support groups and crafting designated areas for respite and meditation, supporting access to continued education and advancement through conferences and encouraging discussion groups to address day-to-day issues and broad challenges.
Healthcare organizations are encouraging nurses to earn advanced degrees, and nurse care teams are being implemented to create a structure for nurses to better support their peers and provide balanced patient care. This important groundwork has been started, but will require ongoing support from leadership to continue to blossom.
It is only when a focus on self care has been instilled in them through their educational experiences, fostered by nursing leadership, continuously supported in team collaboration and modeled by others, that nurses can be their best selves for the institutions, teams and patients they serve.
Empowered to Care in Extraordinary Ways
Through the practice of self care, nurses can keep themselves healthy, both mentally and physically, and be able to bring their best selves to the job. While nursing, at its core, is about caring, the breadth of care does not begin and end with patients. It begins with nurses investing in their whole selves to promote and maintain their personal well-being so they have a strong foundation for providing care to others.
This kind of care takes many shapes – from establishing patterns for optimal health and well-being to maintaining a constant commitment to personal development and lifelong learning to be better equipped to manage our fast-paced healthcare environment.
Continuous improvement of healthcare delivery is possible through compassionate care, but compassionate care is only possible when we, as an industry, build it together.
This much-needed self care is often overlooked within the nursing profession, as the legacy of nursing education and practice sets the expectation that nurses pour all of their energy, and then some, into caring for their patients.
Looking at the state of nursing today, I believe nurses are becoming more enlightened. Nursing education institutions and leadership are recognizing that the way in which nurses manage the rigor of their roles ultimately influences the well-being of patients. Continuous improvement of healthcare delivery is possible through compassionate care, but compassionate care is only possible when we, as an industry, build it together.
1 Watson, J. (2002). Intentionality and caring-healing consciousness: A practice of transpersonal nursing. Holistic Nursing Practice, 16(4), 12–19
2 “Nursing Presence Putting the Art of Nursing Back Into Hospital Orientation.” Journal for Nurses in Professional Development, Volume 30, Number 2, 70Y75, 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins