How nurses made me a more compassionate and caring person, and a better physician

I have had the privilege to serve alongside hundreds of nurses in the nearly 40 years since I started medical school. This includes inpatient and outpatient settings and 20 years of leading medical missions around the world. There are five amazing nurses in my family as well. I have learned from every nurse with whom I have served. This has made me a more compassionate, caring, and empathetic person, and a better physician.

I have reflected on what are the “things” that make nurses truly special. Not everyone has what it takes to be a nurse. There are certain attributes of those who choose nursing. In my experience, these attributes overlap in many ways with physicians, yet there is still something intrinsically different to those who choose nursing that sets them apart. I want to share with you my thoughts. They come from my heart. I hope every nurse who reads this will be encouraged, empowered, and feel valued for who they are as a person and for what they do as a nurse.

You are the frontline of health care. You spend the most time with patients and their families daily, meeting their personal, physical, emotional, and even spiritual needs.

You are the eyes and ears for patients and thus their biggest advocate. You must have the clinical acumen to recognize a potentially serious problem with a patient and the confidence to make it known to the physician. I know that is not always an easy thing to do.

You have a servant-heart: humble and loving. The needs of others always come first to you.

You are able to notice the need around you and go to that need, whether it is a patient or a co-worker.

You wear many hats: mediator, negotiator, peacekeeper, and at times the truth-speaker when patients and families are frightened, angry, vulnerable, feel forgotten, or alone.

You are hope-givers when there seems to be no hope. Without hope, one cannot truly live.

You are the warmth of love given through a caring touch, a gentle hug, or a reassuring word when they are needed the most.

You are a difference-maker in the lives of people every day, and you do it one life at a time.

You are right there with them in the time of patients’ and families’ greatest needs.

Finally, when all else fails, and there is nothing medically left to do, you are the tears of a loving God when a patient has no one else to turn to in their grief and sorrow.

Mother Teresa once said, “None of us do truly great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” Every day you do just that – you do the small things with great love, and in doing so, you are making a difference in the lives of those you touch.

To be a nurse means to have a heart like a stained glass window – a window that has been broken only to be forged back together again stronger and more beautiful for having been broken. Thank you for having such a heart. You are a blessing to those you serve and to every provider privileged to serve with you.

Andy Lamb is an internal medicine physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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