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Happy May 12th! Today the world is celebrating International Nurses Day for 2022.
From the team here at Ausmed, we extend our deepest thanks to the nurses that work tirelessly to care for their communities, no matter their area of practice or expertise. You’re all amazing and we admire you greatly!
This year, Ausmed wants to celebrate IND 2022 by celebrating the three main pillars of nursing as a whole:
What are some notable events where these traits have been displayed? And how have these impacted nursing today?
When discussing professionalism in nursing, you can’t go past Florence Nightingale. She’s not only remained an impressive example of high-quality and innovative nursing for over 160 years, she’s also the mother of modern nursing in general: it’s no coincidence that today’s celebration falls on her birthday!
Nightingale was not just a fierce proponent of healthcare and the then-unproven ‘germ theory’ – she was also an advocate for the concept of professionally trained and employed nurses (ANMF, 2020). She founded the first secular nursing school in 1860 and used statistical data to determine the effect of different sanitary efforts upon the health of British soldiers (ANMF, 2020).
Her work didn’t stop there, though: Nightingale had a personal hand in shaping the professional nursing industry in Australia! In 1866, she was asked by an eastern-Sydney MP to send down nurses trained under her guidance in order to raise the standards of care in Australian infirmaries (ANMF, 2020). She specifically sent down a small group of nurses along with a matron: she stipulated that the nurses should not answer to doctors but to a professionally-trained matron instead (ANMF, 2020).
It’s incredible to think about how the ideas and theories of an innovative figure like Florence Nightingale still have a strong influence on the nursing profession today.
Every single instance of nursing throughout history is steeped in examples of selflessness and resilience. The world stopped to watch as healthcare professionals overcame hurdle after hurdle during the past two years of the global pandemic.
However, this trait is again nothing new to the wonderful cohort of nurses, especially in Australian history. A great example is the league of Australian nurses that relocated to the fronts in WWI.
Over 2,000 Australian nurses were transported to Europe and Africa as support for the Australian troops: however, this work was not just relegated to regular hospitals (Papas, 2014). In 1915, Casualty Clearing Stations – also known as CCSs – were invented as a means to treat soldiers as soon as they were injured in order to secure a more favourable health outcome (McLeod et al, 2021). As such, some nurses were stationed on the front lines – only metres away from the fighting.
From this new proximity to the battlefield, Australian nurses could finally see exactly what their brothers, fathers, cousins and sons were facing: acute destruction of thousands of lives every single day. With this in mind, the very purpose of nursing changed when working in a CCS: it was not the nurse’s prerogative to make soldiers entirely well again. Instead, it was their prerogative to determine whether or not a soldier’s injuries were superficial enough to send them back to the front (McLeod et al, 2021).
With this change in mindset also came a massive pressure to perform as though everything was exactly as it should be:
'…the privacy of our tents was a welcome relief for the weakness we dared not show before our brave, suffering boys.' – Nurse Mary Tilton (McLeod et al, 2021)
So, fostering a strong sense of resilience was as much a part of these nurses’ daily activities as was washing their hands or checking in on their patients.
However, resilience was also required due to the unprecedented injuries these nurses were tasked with treating and caring for: how often would a nurse from inner-city Sydney have seen a leg crushed and splintered by an artillery shell? Thereby, the resilience of these women fed into the very essence of their practice: if one treatment strategy didn’t work for an unusual injury, they’d go back to the drawing board and figure out something else. This showed a mixture of resilience and ingenuity.
As such, these wartime nurses cemented resilience into the mindset of what a good nurse is by creating a sense of resilience not only within their mindsets but also within their practice. This was all while keeping the patients – sometimes thousands a day – and their needs in mind (Papas, 2014). Just amazing.
When you think about an empathetic person, you probably think of someone who actively listens to those around them. However, that’s only a single element of empathy: when looked at holistically, empathy is the ability to put yourself into another person's situation and view it from their perspective.
As you can probably imagine, there are too many examples of empathy in nursing to even begin listing them out. Every single minute, a nurse somewhere in the world makes an effort to meet their patient where they are and see things from that person’s perspective, whether they’re worried about an upcoming invasive procedure or excited about their yearly flu vaccine.
So instead of finding a visionary or legend of the nursing profession from the past, this time Ausmed will focus on the small – or even large – actions communities see every day that show how much nurses care:
Exhibiting endless patience: It’s not news that Australia’s healthcare system is understaffed, especially when it comes to trained nurses. Despite the mounting pressure to see more patients in less time, nurses are always there to have a chat or even just say a quick hello.
Learning about community health: Imagine a residential aged care nurse spending an hour learning about asthma and COPD devices because she knows there are lots of children in her neighbourhood, or a youth mental health nurse taking time to learn about stabilising older adults who have experienced a fall. Every time a nurse, or any healthcare professional, goes out of their way to learn about something that will make their community safer – not just those they care for in their practice – it’s a clear display of empathy.
Providing time and space for questions: A lot of people don’t know a lot about the inner workings of healthcare services, so it’s unsurprising that many people are stressed or anxious when turning up for an appointment or procedure. That’s where nurses come in: no matter the questions, nurses will be there to answer them. From ‘where’s the toilet?' to ‘what’s the prognosis?', nurses go out of their way to make patients' care as smooth and non-stressful as possible.
Supporting each other: It’s true that most of a nurse’s job is patient-facing. However, the dynamics of a nursing team are incredibly important too as it directly affects the care given to patients. Support can be jumping in to help your colleagues or even just grabbing some quick coffees for the team. With this in mind, the empathy shown in the camaraderie between nurses is immense: it’s a bond that’s evident to patients and fills them with a sense of security.
In this piece, Ausmed is celebrating International Nurses Day by using examples from the recent and far past. These nurses are admirable and set the tone of work being done today: however, mental health and burnout were not at the forefront of peoples' minds until relatively recently. It’s only been a few years since the mental fallout of nurses in WWI was publically acknowledged (Papas, 2014).
That being said, the virtues of professionalism, empathy and resilience should never exist inside a vacuum. These virtues must instead be tempered and supported by self-care and work-life balance. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the current cohort of nurses – and health professionals in general – anything, it’s that you need to put your mental health first so you can continue to provide your best work for your communities.
So, if you need a break from work this week or you want to start building up your mental fortitude in the face of workplace stress, use these resources to understand why good mental health is important to nurses: