2011 Winning Essay

2011 A Nurse I Am Scholarship winners were asked to answer the following: Which of the attributes of the nurses who appear in the film would you like to emulate - and why?

Katharine Haxall

Columbia University School of Nursing
New York City, NY

Holism. Caring. Communication. I would most like to emulate these attributes of the nurses who appear in the educational film and documentary “A Nurse I Am.” The films strike me as moving and yet daunting. How did these Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award-winning nurses come to develop such qualities? How do they manage to apply them to their chosen profession day after day? Do I posses those same qualities? If not, can I still operate as a nurse? Cherokee highlights the reasons that I heard – and listened to – a call to nursing in the first place. It also reminds me that I am proudly and humbly joining a nursing community of 2 million including the award winners. As stated in the documentary, nurses touch everyone’s life at some point…I only hope that I too can do them justice.

Holism constitutes a component of nursing that drew me to the profession, but seeing it in action in the film, what holism looks like in practice, is remarkable. For example, Ms. Counts brings new meaning to the patient history during her discussion with Roxie, as she gains a better understanding of Roxie’s typical challenges. Ms. Counts brings this point home by saying that “Roxie was not feeling like Roxie.” The most significant part of the assessment is neither the interview nor the physical exam, but Roxie’s affect, so known and understood to Ms. Counts that she can provide better care to Roxie as a whole person. Ms. Counts also treats Roxie without judgment, providing options for smoking cessation without criticizing Roxie’s personal habits. With this encounter, Ms. Counts shows that the very qualities I seek to emulate overlap in nursing: her approach is not only holistic, but also communicative and caring.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wilkinson demonstrates holism within the context of the family. In the educational film, Cherokee entitles one scene “Get To Know Your Patients,” which Mr. Wilkinson does beautifully within the triangle of care: nurses, patients, families. Mr. Wilkinson becomes a part of families’ most intimate life events in spite of the deep loss that he experiences as a result. I feel in great awe of this dynamic, as a I am pursing pediatric nursing myself. I also admire Mr. Wilkinson’s honesty about not being able to provide answers to parents. As Mr. Wilkinson discusses the stress of the unknown, he exhibits a deep understanding of humanity, showing that nurses themselves are holistic. It is perhaps this attribute that I respect most and yet find most intimidating. Nursing becomes not only a professional but also a personal identity. Ms. Bush says, “Nursing is not just a job…I have to do it. I am a nurse.” She embraces a life of service and extends nursing into her own life when she cares for her sister. Similarly, I observed my mother, a nurse, care for my father following a debilitating stroke and serve as his advocate within the health system.
For nurses, it seems that their greatest work is caring for their patients’ families – and for their won. It is perhaps this sense of caring that allows Mr. Wilkinson, Ms. Bush, and others to carry on, to find the motivation and strength to “Stick With It,” just as Ms. Counts “never stops.” The dedication that these nurses maintain defines the profession, and I cannot come up with any other in which caring and compassion are part of the curriculum. The profiled nurses seem to embrace a lifelong learning process, engaged in technology and advancement, yet constantly aware that their patients are “not just a statistic”. They remind me both of what I can contribute and what I have to aspire to. I bring my own multi-dimensionality to nursing, my own holistic approach, and I am thrilled to see where that takes me and how much I can achieve with mentors such as the Inspired Comfort Award winners to follow.

“A Nurse I Am” recalls the reasons why we pursue nursing and puts those into words. Like the Inspired Comfort Award winners, I seek a future with purpose, to see people get better, and to “do what I do best, and that’s help other people.” The winners do just that with a holistic approach, communication, and caring. I hope that soon I, too, will experience moments when I see myself emerge in that same nursing role. I will know then that these dedicated, talented nurses are cheering me on, and that I have just joined a community much, much greater than myself.

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