2016 Winning Essay

The 2016 A Nurse I Am Scholarship winners were asked to address the following:
As nurses continually interact with sick people, they may develop “compassion fatigue” over time and become hardened to the reality of difficulty and pain in patients’ lives.
(1) Describe how one of the nurses in the “A Nurse I Am” videos overcame this challenge.
(2) How did their view of their patients help them maintain their compassion?
(3) Explain how you plan to maintain compassion in your nursing work over the long term.

Tomer Gutwaks

Rutgers School of Nursing

"We weren't in the hospital, we were in a home away from home. Bob made it that way".
– Bob Wilkinson's patient's father.

Nursing is unique in that it blurs the line between playing by the rules and bending them. Though technically and medically rules must be followed and techniques perfected, dealing with the emotional aspects allows for a playing field that has no borders.

Enter Bob Wilkinson. A male nurse who not only understands this, but embodies it. Bob is quoted as saying 'you have to understand how the patients/families feel or else you get lost in the machines, the beeps, and the blips', which is exactly how he prevents "compassion fatigue". He fundamentally and innately understands that everything about nursing can be replaced by a machine, even the medication dispensing!

But the one "unlearnable" skill, the one aspect of nursing that can't be simulated is the "connection" between two people, the bond of understanding and promise of going on a journey towards improvement together. This is the harmony between healer and patient, and Bob's personification of this notion allows for his effervescence and positive attitude, which radiates out to all his patients, improving their demeanor instantly.

Bob highlighted other notions that allow him to avoid "compassion fatigue". He fights for "himself", and views each patient as his own family, and, by extension, his own self. There is understandable logic in never giving up. And so by approaching each patient as an extension of his own being, Bob ensures that not only will he never give up on them (and by extension, himself), he will do everything in his power to ensure "compassion fatigue" never materializes. Just knowing it exists is a way of fighting it. He broadcasts to patients that he is their co-pilot and that he not only respects that responsibility, but is humbled by the opportunity to lead others through life changing events.

This attitude and practice is significantly easier said than done. Unfortunate diagnoses, losing patients, long shifts, personal issues, bad days, and other idiosyncratic events can all push someone to the brink of fatigue. Which is exactly what brings Bob to another ideal he incorporates into his nursing profession: "One day, one year, isn't your whole life". Take it day by day. That's Bob's approach. That way, even when negative days occur, they will not dictate the tomorrows, the next weeks and the next years of life. And that way, Bob stays grounded and calm, and that coolness unfolds to the point where it resonates with his patients, allowing them to remain calm and approach their journey to recovery with a smile.

I'm also a male in nursing, and so I can identify with Bob Wilkinson. But it's not because of his gender, it's because of his mentality. It's that Bob stresses to all future nurses, that "you have to be willing to laugh, and make others laugh". It's impossible to fake loving what you do, and Bob stresses that as instrumental for future nurses. Making myself laugh and others laugh, is the purest form of communicating to a patient that you love what you do, you love them, and you love that you can help them through their trials and tribulations.

And so the question remains: How to maintain compassion in my day-to-day? The beauty of the question resides in how simplistic of a path Bob Wilkinson has left to follow and extrapolate upon. The triad of philosophies that include "connecting/fighting" for the patient as if he/she was an extension of one's self, "day by day" nursing, and "injecting" humor into not only the lives of the patients around, but also into the life of the nurse is the recipe for success. It leaves shoes that are not intimidating to fill, and leaves room for expansion. The major addition I would implement is communicating camaraderie to the patient, to let them know I am on this journey with them, I am their co-pilot. When the nurse's emotions and well-being are at stake, they fight harder, and the "compassion fatigue" will have no room to develop. Finally, marrying that concept with a day-by-day approach, allows for situations, no matter how overwhelming, to remain feasible obstacles to overcome. Every day has an end, and knowing that is perhaps one of the greatest weapons to taking on a new one 365 times a year.

Bob Wilkinson paved the way, and the best way to thank him, is through delivering Bob Wilkinson-esque care to all future patients.

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