“I just can't do it anymore, this job is killing me.”
Sometimes work is like playing Mario kart, we pull out onto the course only to get smashed, blown up or derailed before we even hit the first turn.
And then we get plopped back at the beginning to start again. But the more we do this, the more we become aware that we only have 6 lives and we are running through them at an alarming rate. Eventually, we will pull out onto the course for the last time unless we can master the obstacles.
That’s what I hear so many nurses saying. They wanted to be in the game but the repetitive trauma is taking a toll and they are ready to say GAME OVER.
But even saying “game over” doesn’t bring the expected relief. There is a sadness in that as well, a sadness in giving up the ideal of being a nurse.
There was supposed to be some joy in the work. Sure, the challenge was implied but what happened to the joy?
The demands of the profession have grown, the knowledge base and responsibilities expanding while resources wane. And as we struggle to keep up, as we know more, we realize just how much we aren’t doing.
This knowledge is the potential poison.
We KNOW what good nursing can look like, and most days we feel like we are falling short of that mark. We know better so we want to do better.
But there are so many obstacles and we get worn down.
The work is worth it if what we are doing is making a difference, if we are being amazing despite the odds, if we are actually helping people. But when we start to lose this sense of success in our work, then the meaning behind the work gets lost.
And the dread builds,
the fatigue grows,
And we start to ask ourselves, what’s the point if I can’t even be a good nurse?
I would argue that it’s not that we aren’t good nurses, it’s that we feel like we CAN’T be good nurses. And this feeling can be subtly damning.
So let’s start with what IS a “good nurse”? What does a “good nurse” do? How is being a “good nurse” defined? Take a minute and think about this.
Without spending a lot of time, here is what I came up with.
A good nurse focuses on the whole patient. A good nurse processes and analyzes the nuances of patient health and wellness. A good nurse filters a ton of physical and verbal information and looks for patterns and inconsistencies. A good nurse is decisive and direct in providing care.
A good nurse maximizes the resources available for the good of the patient.
A good nurse doesn’t do everything perfectly, all of the time. She does the best she can. She cares about the patient.
If we were on a battlefield or in a third world country, we would feel proud to give whatever care we could. We would improvise, we would understand the limitations of the situation and still give ourselves credit for doing the best we could with the tools we had.
Here’s the thing. We are on a battlefield. There are very real limitations right now in healthcare and these limitations are affecting the quality of patient care.
And while this may be true, it does not diminish the value of the care we ARE providing.
We can always give great care because the act of caring is a choice. The meaning behind what we do isn’t negated by lack of staffing, poor support or even fatigue.
It’s true that all of the important tasks may be done at a B- level instead of an A+ due to the very real restrictions of the current situation and this may result in poorer patient outcomes. This is a result of the system, not the nurse.
What we do has meaning. All the tasks have meaning: reviewing labs, assessing the patient, teaching, dealing with families, collaborating with team members, confirming medications.
And the meaning is that the person in front of you deserves care,
whatever that care may look like.
If we forget the meaning, we can’t bear the circumstance.
In the words of Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor,
“ He who has a WHY to live can bear with almost any how.”
Remember why you are there. Remember why you have held on for so long. Any care that you can give the patient is the care they are going to get. They aren’t going to get more care or better care from someone else. And because of this, the care you give them is enough- it’s the maximum amount of care available in the current situation.
And that’s important.
You are a good nurse, it’s part of your very being and can’t be separated from you.
Focus on the why and the how is not only less important, it will fall into place on its own.
Take comfort in a job well done, you deserve it.
If you feel like you are drowning and losing your purpose, reach out. I can help you with that. I have been there too.