Honoring Nurses Who Make a Difference
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About Honor a Nurse
Founded in 1993, Honor a Nurse was created by the American Nurses Foundation as a public way to celebrate individual nurses. Anyone can nominate a nurse, clinician, friend, colleague, mentor or teacher who has made a difference in the practice of nursing and make a donation on behalf of the honoree. Each honoree is recognized here on the Honor a Nurse website and is sent a card recognizing his or her contribution to the profession.
January: A Change for the Best
Author: Gary Johnson, RN, Kaiser Permanente
Ten years ago, I was working as an operations manager for a major insurance company. My wife was a working RN in the operating room. She had recently returned from a surgical mission in Honduras and began to cry when she told me of her experience. She told of a people who had nothing, but were happier than most she knew. She spoke of how she gave away most of her belongings (including clothes and shoes) to the ladies that cleaned the ORs. It had such a profound effect on her and, little did I know, would affect me in a similar way. After hearing this story, I told myself, “I wish I had that kind of passion about my career.” My wife was always trying to make me change careers from the day she became a nurse, and was making a strong case for changing careers again. Fast forward one month, and I was faced with a choice. I was in the middle of a re-alignment in my organization and was given an ultimatum: Keep my current position and move to Los Angeles, or take a year’s severance. I immediately remembered my wife’s experience in Honduras and chose to take the severance and go back to school to become a nurse. Ten years later I am so ever grateful for making the decision to make a career move. I love what I do and it seems to bring out the best in me. I wish I had done it 20 years ago instead of ten years ago!
February: The Essence of Nursing is Human Bonds
Author: Fidelindo Lim, Faculty, New York University College of Nursing
The nursing profession continues to evolve. My role as a nursing faculty member allows me the privilege to see future nurses embrace what is yet to be, beyond the linear columns of the nursing care plan. What I see students do in clinical, outside the bulleted educational outcomes, are subtle reminders that caring cannot be truly taught in school. This trait simply manifests as the natural, almost evolutionary tendency of women and men in nursing. Recently, a student of mine spent a good hour braiding the hair of her patient who was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, two days earlier. The patient has bilateral above knee amputation and will probably never set foot in a hair salon, but the student brought a semblance of normalcy to a life thrown off balance. Outside the room, I could hear beauty parlor reflective conversation between the student nurse and the patient. Suddenly, cancer seems insignificant. When the patient examined her neatly arranged corn rows in front of the mirror, we all saw life, not imminent death. I often recall this story to remind myself that the very essence of nursing is human bonds. As a faculty, I partner with my students not simply to aid them in learning the ropes but to strengthen nursing’s umbilical connection with life—till the end.
March: Forever in My Heart
Author: Patricia Crooks, RN
I had been working in a busy L&D unit for a few years. That day, it was my turn to work in the antepartum area. I had a young couple who had lost the pregnancy very early, approximately 19 to 20 weeks. They both were devastated and said they did not want to see the baby once it was born. They requested that the baby be immediately taken out of the room. When the delivery time came I had another nurse in the room with me. Honoring their wish, I took the baby to our IUFD room. The baby was born with a heartbeat; it was slow, but nonetheless it was there. My colleague and close friend took care of mom and dad while I cared for this small, innocent baby. I sat there and held, talked to, and sang to the baby for two and a half hours until there was no longer a heartbeat. There was no way I could let this small baby pass all alone. This little baby forever remains in my heart.
April: The Amazing Kindness of a Student
Author: Charlotte Feckers, Director of Nursing, Kaplan University
As a nurse for over 20 years I could share numerous stories of growing up in the nursing field, some sad, some funny, and a few from those first years probably downright scary. Nothing truly prepared me for the honor of working with students.
I fill in several terms a year to instruct a clinical section; it is refreshing to work with students side by side and to dig back into that memory bank of pathophysiology. One student recently reminded me not only why I was a nurse, but why I am a nurse educator.
We all have been there, mastered the ominous “foley catheter check off” in the lab. You walk out of the lab feeling like you are on top of the world. You know if you can pass that check off and not break sterile field you can do ANYTHING! Until you get to clinical! Our clinical was at one of our larger skilled facilities, and the patient that was assigned was a patient who was admitted for therapy due to Necrotizing fasciitis, with extensive skin grafting in her groin and Peri area. She was about five feet tall and down from approximately 450 pounds to 300. We were asked to change out her Foley Cath. My student who was one of my few male students was unbelievable to this patient. He showed a kindness I have not seen in a very long time. I could tell by listening to their interaction that the patient was notably comfortable with the student, however she was also apprehensive and embarrassed due to all of the disfigurement done by the skin grafting. She looked at the student and said to him, “Now you know due to all I have been through, I don’t look the same down there as everyone else.” The student’s response was so kind and reassuring, telling her that no matter what, no one looks the same and everyone is different. The patient was instantly at ease and you could see that she trusted him. We were able to get the catheter in on the first attempt! The patient asked me if I would give the student an “A” for the day, and I reassured her that I would!
The kindness that this student showed, the caring touch and interaction he had with this patient gave her a sense of hope. I love being a nurse and caring for patients. By mentoring students I can touch many more patients than I could by myself!
This was one of my proudest moments! I wish I could really show in an essay the kindness this student showed the patient and the pride I felt when we left the room that we are NURSES!
May: A Lifelong Passion for Nursing
Author: Anne M. Bennett, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, CCRN, FCCM, Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, Memorial Health University Medical Center, Savannah, GA
I applied for my first Nursing job at age four! Really, I cannot recall a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a nurse. I would take a toy nurse’s bag and wear a tiny nurse’s cap and blue cape to church when my parents would allow. If I was especially good, they would take me to visit the babies in the nursery window at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I loved to crawl up on the steps or have my father hold me up to the window to be a nurse to the newborn babies.
One Sunday, the head of the hospital, Sister Mary Cornile, came across me “assessing” my babies at the window. She asked me if I liked looking at the babies and, despite being a very shy child, I explained to her that I was a “baby nurse.” She asked what I did as a baby nurse. I said that I had a Newborn baby doll nursery at my house where I bathed, fed, changed, “listened to” (putting a play stethoscope to their chests), and gave shots to the babies. She informed me that she would like me to put in an application and invited me and my parents to her office. She helped me complete my first employment application because I could only write my name. She sweetly instructed me to please continue in kindergarten, go to high school and then nursing school and she would PROMISE me a job in her hospital. I had her word. Fast forward 18 years—I was completing my Senior practicum at St. Joseph’s and ran into Sister Mary Cornile—she was retired and on a rascal scooter—I asked her if she remembered the four-year-old “baby nurse” peering in the old nursery windows years ago. Not only did she remember it, she remembered my name AND recited the entire story!!! And yes, I got offered a job in the Newborn Nursery!
June: Because of What You Did, Our Life Will Remain Wonderfuln
Author: Deborahann Link, RN Educator III, Reading Hospital School of Health Sciences
I once cared for a young client, about 40 years old, with symptoms of a CVA. She and her family were very frightened and unsure of what was happening and how this problem may change the rest of their lives. When all radiologic and laboratory tests were completed, the final diagnosis was, “Yes, you are having a stroke,” and the family became even more distraught and frightened. I began to administer tPA to treat her symptoms and try to resolve the clot that was causing the stroke. I was scared to death, but remembered back to what I learned about assessing a client with a neurological issue. This gave me a bit less anxiety and I continued the treatment. As I assessed her every 10 minutes, I started to see her symptoms resolving; however, my continued assessment angered the client. I knew this was because she was very afraid of what was occurring and how it may change her life. The client kept yelling at me every time I assessed her. I told her, “Keep yelling because then I can assess some of your cranial nerves and how your speech is returning.” I knew she didn’t understand, but that was okay. I continued with my assessment and she continued being angry with me, but I could see how the treatment was working. The next day, the client’s spouse came back to the ER where I worked and gave me an update on how his wife was doing. He also thanked me for being persistent and kind during the treatment of a very serious condition. He also mentioned that “because of what you did, our life will remain wonderful. I was afraid I was going to lose her.” Before this interaction with the spouse, I didn’t fully realize how my actions, skills, knowledge, and interpersonal communication would actually make such an impact! Now I use this story to tell my students how things that you may take for granted—knowledge and skills—will have more impact on the lives of others than you realize. Also, as the nurse, you will then know and feel that the decision you made to enter this profession is truly what you were meant to do.
July: I Was Made for This
Author: Daniela Brink, PN Instructor, Ozarks Technical Community College
I became inspired to become a nurse at the age of 20 when I was on a mission trip with my youth group to Paraguay, SA. I was there volunteering at a free medical clinic and I saw how powerful it was to use the skill of nursing to help an under-served population. I saw the skills, interventions and compassion at work and thought to myself that this was something I should do. Within a year, I began an ADN program while still completing all the prerequisites. It was tough!
After 23 years of nursing in primarily med/surg areas, I now hold two Master’s degrees and teach in a practical nursing program. I teach both in the classroom and lead clinicals. I am passing on the skills and experience to eager new nurses, and I live for those “aha moments” which thrill me. One poignant story: I was in Pakistan in October of 2005 volunteering after a massive earthquake in the Himalayas, and we were working around the clock in a MASH-type hospital setup in a valley surrounded by mountains. Doctors and nurses from many different countries worked together furiously to triage and treat the victims. Our security guards were the Pakistani army.
One frigid night, I remember just coming off of an 18-hour shift and feeling bone tired and numb. I hadn’t taken a shower in over a week. I stood outside my tent and looked around. I saw and heard the rumblings of yet another aftershock (there were several occurring each day) and I came to the realization in that moment: I was made for this. This is my destiny. To nurse and help those less fortunate. To use my skills and knowledge to bring healing to those who are hurting. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so tired anymore. That is why it is so great to be a nurse. This is my story.
August: She Thought I Was You
Author: Karin Swiencki, Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia
There is a story from the early days of my nursing career (I have been an Oncology RN for more than 26 years!) that I would like to share that tells how I first became truly aware of the impact I can have on patients and their families as a Registered Nurse.
I was caring for a woman with advanced breast cancer, married with two children, who was undergoing high dose chemotherapy with autologous bone marrow transplant. I requested to have her in my assignment whenever I worked, as I had formed a therapeutic bond/relationship with her and her family. She was in the hospital for about four weeks.
While she had many medical complications, she was most distressed by her feelings of isolation, being unable to fulfill her role as mother to her pre-teen daughters and be there for her husband. As I administered her treatments, antibiotics, and transfusions, I was able to help her cope and listen to her share her story. Needless to say, she was so happy when she was able to go home, hopeful of having obtained a remission. She gave me a note that I have kept (I keep all of my patients’ notes to me!) and some small gifts, and I was honored to receive them.
A couple of weeks later, my identical twin sister, Kate, called me, to tell me that she had been out at the movies the night before, when a woman exclaimed, “KARIN!! It’s you!!” and proceeded to throw herself at Kate, and not let go. As twins, we get this a lot, but what my sister told me next has stayed with me (and with her too) all these years: “Karin, she thought I was you, and if that’s the way someone looks at you and hugs you, and is so happy to see you when you have been their nurse, I want to be a nurse.”
September: Paying It Forward
Hospice RN Case Manager, Community Health and Nursing Services
In 2004 my mother was dying of end stage metastatic colon cancer and was receiving Hospice care from Community Health and Nursing Services. At that time, I was 41 years old and had never gone to college. The Hospice nurses who cared for my mother delivered such tender care and supported my family in such profound ways, that I was inspired to apply to the University of Southern Maine nursing program so that I might become a Hospice nurse in the community where I was raised. I went to nursing school with the singular goal to work with Community Health and Nursing Services, so that I might give to other families the very special and enduring gifts that had been given to me. It was a rough and arduous road, and despite a divorce that nearly derailed me from my path, I graduated magna cum laude from USM with my BSN on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12th, in 2012 (too coincidental for words, right???). I passed my NCLEX a month later and was hired by the organization that I had toiled so tirelessly to work for, in their skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility. On September 8, 2014 I realized my dream and was hired as a full-time Hospice Nurse Case Manager at Community Health and Nursing Services in Brunswick, Maine, and have been privileged to work with end-of-life patients since then. One of the nurses who helped to care for my mother is now the Director of our Hospice. It is so incredible to have her as my mentor and to be doing this blessed work, helping to ensure comfort and dignity to the dying. To become a nurse was the singular, most important decision of my life. I could not have imagined the positive ways my life has changed by this one act, but I am having an amazing life because of it.
October: Passing the Torch
Author: Laura Logan, Nurse Educator, Stephen F. Austin University
I have been a faculty member for nine years. I am a young educator among many seasoned nursing educators. They have shared their stories of inspiration with me and assured me I would begin to collect them too. The first years were difficult for me because I needed to inventory my own ability to teach fundamental skills to many students who have never spoken to an elderly person, except for their own grandparents. I have taught the current years in my specialty area of Critical Care Nursing. I found my home!
Upon clinical rounds one morning, I spoke to a student who appeared distraught, anxious, and disheveled. Upon pressing the student about where these issues where stemming, I asked her, “How many hours of sleep did you get last night?” Her reply was, “I rarely sleep more than one and a half hours each night.” I explained to her the issue of nurse fatigue and how her lack of rest and sleep affects her care of patients and increases her odds for errors. She began to talk to me about her current life situation and I referred her to the counseling services on campus. A follow-up appointment with me was arranged and she attended it, in a more restful, hopeful state of mind. She thanked me for caring for her and the patients. She explained how she never thought that her issues could affect her patients, and that she began to understand what I was teaching her. She continued with counseling and saw a physician for her medical needs.
Summative evaluations are always a good time to see if my students agree with my assessment of their work and overall clinical judgment. When this student came for her evaluation, we spoke about her improvements and her needs for growth. When ending the time, she turned to me and said, “You were the hardest instructor I have ever had. You did not let me or any of us in clinical get away with anything. We learned what it is like to love nursing, and why we do what we are educated and called to do. Thank you for caring for me and for teaching me that my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health are important, to those that I care for every day, as a nurse.”
I was very touched by her words. I was inspired to keep my standards high for the students I teach. I was encouraged to know that the student understood that I cared for her and the patient. As an educator, it can be challenging to get this across to the students. As I write this, I remember that one of my favorite quotes is: “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a flame,” by William Butler Yeats. This student lit my flame once again and taught me to keep igniting others’ sparks for the betterment of patient outcomes and student learning.
November: It Worked
Author: Kerrie Downing, Assistant Dean, University of Phoenix
I remember being a novice faculty member and having a student rush up to me in the hall. She had a huge smile on her face and was unable to stand still. “It worked,” she said. “It worked just like you said it would, you will be so proud of me”. “What worked?” I responded, half wondering what exactly I said or did that made such an impact. “Instead of offering a solution to the patient’s pain, like I normally would have, I asked her how she would best like to be helped”.
She paused, and told me that no one had ever asked her that before”. The student went on to describe the situation, noting that the patient was so thankful to be heard and listened to in that moment. She said she realized just how little people truly listen to those they help, and that she was going to make sure she always heard those for whom she cared. She also remarked that it was easier to connect than she thought it would be; you just need to be authentic. The student was ecstatic, and so was I. I realized in that moment that I had not only touched that student but also the lives of everyone else she would help thereafter. It felt great to be a nurse and an educator.
December: Now I Can Say Goodbye to Her
Author: Chanda Kim, Registered Nurse ICU, Honor Health Network
It was just before Christmas and things were extremely busy in our unit. I was assigned a patient who required total care, took report, and saw a gentleman quietly slip into my room. As per protocol, I introduced myself. The gentleman smiled and shook my hand with a warmth that I am totally unused under such circumstances. He asked me if I was the one who had made his wife look so pretty in bed, and then thanked me for doing such a wonderful job. I was stunned and my heart melted a little that night. I offered him a cup of coffee and stayed to chat with him.
I found out that night that they had been married for nearly half a century, and that they had one son. I also learned that they were preparing to withdraw care on their loved one. Hospice would take over in a couple of days. My heart went out to them. To make such a tough decision any time is hard, but to have to make it so close to Christmas was heartbreaking.
On my last night, I came in and asked another nurse how my lady was doing and he showed me a heart monitor strip -- flat line. Hospice had come in earlier that afternoon and they let her go, easily, without pain or suffering. The Hospice nurse let me know that all that was left was to wait for the mortuary to come but they were over an hour away. He said the family would like to dress her before she left and asked if I would be willing to help, and I told him yes, we’d make it happen. Her husband wanted to help, and I had no heart to tell him no. He helped us bathe her and then brought out the clothes he had selected, a beautiful scarlet dress with silver embroidery, her shoes, and her favorite wig, as she had lost her hair to cancer the year before and it never really grew back. We dressed her and he helped all the while talking to her, teasing her for being no help, and reminiscing about all the places they had gone with her wearing this outfit. I brushed out the hair piece and settled it in a way that looked pretty, asking for his style advice. He then took two lipstick tubes from his pocket and asked me which I thought would go better with her outfit, with a laugh, telling me she was always such a fashionable person. We settled on a bright red and I applied it to her lips. When we were all done he stopped and looked at her, then grabbed me in a huge bear hug. I could feel that there were tears on his face for the first time, and he whispered in my ear, “Thank you, now she looks like herself again and I can say goodbye to her.”
I will never forget this moment that I was so graciously made part of, and to this day consider it a gift to be made part of something so special.
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