Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What I Learned From My Nursing Colleagues

By Marica Prenguber, ND, FABNO

new year
Photo by *Sally M*, via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

As the year end rapidly comes upon us, I am assessing the work I have done toward achieving both personal and professional goals that I set out for 2009. One of the goals that I had established was to better understand what the day to day experiences are of the nursing colleagues in the infusion room of the cancer center in which I work. So I spent a few hours with them in the past couple of weeks (and yes, although the goal was made for this year, I still managed to put it off until December 2009). I am so glad to have spent that time with the infusion room nurses, and been able to better understand what their perspectives are in working in that environment with folks who are undergoing chemotherapy as part of their treatment program for their cancer diagnosis.

Although I work with this same group of patients, my work brings me somewhat different experiences with these patients. So, during part of the time that I spent with these remarkably dedicated nurses, I asked them many questions, including why they do this work – in oncology. Universally they shared very similar reasons. Each of the nurses with whom I spoke told me that they chose oncology because they felt that they could make a difference in someone’s life – in the lives of patients who are going through very difficult situations. And that is helps them to keep their own lives in perspective – to keep a measuring stick against their own trials and tribulations.

I asked about their fears – working in this environment. (It’s very common among folks who work in oncology, at some point, to be very concerned about a symptom that we experience that makes each of us wonder if we have just found the first symptom of a cancer within us.) The vast majority of these nurses are of child bearing years – and the vast majority of them have either been pregnant or their partner has been pregnant at some point during their years working in the infusion room. They all shared that they have feared a specific cancer diagnosis at one time or another, and even now ponder what type of cancer it may be, if not today - then one day. Yet it has never caused them to consider switching to another department. Despite their newborns, their toddlers, their growing children waiting at home for them everyday. Their work with these patients is too much a part of who they are to allow their fears to take over. And still they take the emotional disappointments and triumphs home with them.

What about the frustrations? The loss that comes with the territory – getting close to patients that come in regularly for their treatment, and the family members that come with them, and the battles that are lost. Many shared that come to know the families well – often spending 6-8 hours caring for a patient (and family members!) each time they come in- you get to know them pretty well. Suffering and loss with a relationship that has developed through difficult times over weeks and months can be very painful.

And they still say the good outweighs the difficulties. They have learned to personally be “more spontaneous, to appreciate health (their own) more, and to live on a day to day basis rather than living for the future – appreciating family and friends, and not to live in fear.” They are inspired by these patients – patients who face such challenging situations and yet have such great attitudes – how they get up every day and face the challenge. It seems to me that these nurses do the same - and for this I admire them. I am certain that we all have challenges that make us better, but I am in awe of these RNs who look those issues square in the face every day, and although they drop some tears along the way, they never turn their back on the challenge.

I am fortunate to be able to work alongside an impressive and inspiring group of people. And am happy to be able to have accomplished this goal for 2009, and hope I am better for it. Hoping not to sound too philosophical, I do think it’s important to set goals, personal and professional, and evaluate them at year’s end. Maybe it is just the former school teacher in me, but there is so much to learn and to allow ourselves to be inspired by - with every experience. So my advice for 2010 - set some goals – the research tells us that those of you who do, achieve more, and are happier! Goals provide a focus and enable you to measure your progress. I have read that goals are motivating, and I would agree – it may have taken me until December – but I got it done! And am so glad that I did.

Happy New Year.

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