Nursing has come a long way since Florence Nightingale took it by the scruff of the neck in the Crimea and gave it a good shake. It had been the province of untrained, grubby women who had their hearts in the right place but had only a very rough idea of how to keep their patients flourishing and, more importantly, alive. Science and knowledge has moved on, medicine and surgery have reached heights that Miss Nightingale would not have been able to imagine, but still the qualities of a good nurse have, at a basic level, not changed all that much. Paperwork has probably increased by a huge magnitude, but then the nurses of today have tools to help them such as computers and bar codes rather than ledgers and labels, so perhaps that is not such a difference after all.
Nursing nowadays is a much more scientifically regimented profession. There is a need to have a greater understanding of human physiology, psychology, biochemistry and all the rest, but the important bit of the knowledge is still the ‘human’, not the science. It is all too easy when working in the medical field to lose sight of the person behind the condition and a good nurse is a person who always sees the person first and the medical issue second. A person with a life limiting illness needs expert nursing care but also a shoulder to cry on. Someone with a minor condition still needs a sympathetic ear; a boil on the buttock is just as important as anything more serious, from the point of view of the buttock’s owner!
In medicine today, a nurse needs to be an expert in time management. Many wards and departments are staffed by very reduced numbers compared with some years ago and yet the medical care being delivered is probably much more sophisticated and time consuming. Most nurses learn from day one of training the fine art of multi-tasking, but when the tasks involved are as complex as many they are asked to perform, a good nurse takes the skill to a completely new level. Many tasks in a nurse’s day are relatively mundane, it is nevertheless essential that they are completed to a standard nothing short of perfection. This is in fact extremely difficult to manage – to concentrate fully from start to finish on a very boring task is not an easy thing to pull off, but for a good nurse it is a daily miracle.
Perhaps one of the qualities a good nurse shows best of all is their own humanity. Some nurses have a much more emotional working environment than others and some of the work in, for example, oncology or geriatrics is not for everyone. There is nothing wrong with sharing the highs and lows of the patients’ emotions and as long as they don’t become a burden, a trouble shared is a trouble halved and a patient with a nurse who can carry it off without condescension or coldness is a lucky patient indeed.