By Jeffrey McWilliams, MD
Medicine, what a noble profession. As the keepers of human health and longevity, we are entrusted with a huge but solemn responsibility. It’s an ancient artwork, passed through the generations from pre-antiquity, hand in hand from physician to physician. The Hippocratic oath ensuring that we first “do no harm” and commit ourselves to the honorable calling. We often hear “see one, teach one, do one” and so propagates the training of medicine.
When people think of medical school or training, they envision television dramas like ER or Grey’s Anatomy where young doctors begin their quest behind the attending or senior provider, learning all knowledge and guidance as they work hand in hand with the seasoned veteran. I can’t argue with this depiction as many of my formidable years were spent shadowing and learning from the best. These mentors spent countless hours, molding young physicians like myself into competent providers.
But this is only part of story. Much of my education and evolution I owe to the selfless generosity, guidance, and mentorship of nurses. They are the unsung heroes of our medical society, often sacrificing for the sake of patient care. I learned early in my training how priceless a nurse’s guidance or help could be. They are the foot soldiers on the medical frontline, working hand in hand with patients and families, combating pain, disease, and fear while often neglecting themselves. This commitment and compassion, often a rarity in many industries, is the unwritten norm for most nurses, called to comfort and heal.
What heightened my awareness to this valuable resource? It would seem intuitive; unfortunately, many providers don’t fully grasp the resource at hand. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m married to a nurse. She would always remind me to listen to the nurses and try to help them when a need arises. I also remember the angst and frustration she had when a doctor treated her with disrespect or did not value her insight or intuition. I’m very thankful that my wife allowed me to look under the veil, step into her shoes and understand her perspective. I have no doubt that it has made me a better physician and peer.
At the beginning of clinicals, most young physicians are filled to the brim with knowledge, but void of many principles of application. This is where I focused on cultivating genuine appreciation of our frontline warriors. It was a nurse, that first showed me how to insert an IV, while working late one night in a Newark ER. It was an RN who guided my hands during my first urinary catheter attempt, giving subtle advice and tricks of the trade. As an ER doc, I have found these skills very useful when the need arises. I made friends, I showed sincere appreciation in what they did and what they had to say. It was a nurse who taught me how to deal with the dying, and comfort the loss. It was a nurse who pointed out subtle cues of impending respiratory failure, or early sepsis that books and lectures fail to illustrate. What was second nature, almost innate for them, was foreign to me. Their “pearls of wisdom” were priceless and I am forever grateful. I value nurses immeasurably and have the utmost respect because they are the cornerstone of patient care. Although things change and evolve, their contribution and dedication holds steady. They are what is good about health care.
As providers, we need to be in tuned to these unsung heroes, tapping into the valuable resources and cultivating relationships that impact patient care. Young providers, they will teach you and help grow a sense of compassion and clinical intuition that we all strive to achieve. Seasoned veterans, they are our “eyes on the field” or extension of our hands in this all-encompassing and ever changing profession. When a nurse says “something isn’t right” or “you should look at this,” I can promise you I’m all ears.
In medicine, we are the conductors of a complex orchestra with many moving parts. It’s our job to accumulate, assimilate, and act in the best interests of our patients with the resources at hand. As a doctor, I can’t think of a more valuable resource than my nursing staff and all they do for myself and patients on a daily basis. Words can’t express the gratitude and humility I feel on a daily basis. They are more than a resource but rather a comrade at arms as we hold the line in our quest for patient care.