The hearts of health care

Andrea Wagner is a registered nurse at Washoe Medical Center in Reno and a member of Operating Engineers Local 3. Union nurses held another 24-hour strike on Dec. 23.

I am a registered nurse. I love what I do for a living. Nursing today is not the profession perceived by the public. It is not as it appears on television. I believe that people would be surprised if they walked in my shoes for one week.

Nurses’ education levels range from associate’s to doctoral degrees; besides formal medical training, we are also schooled in the art and science of caring and “knowing.” Without question, it is the physicians who direct the medical care of the patient, but the registered nurse directs the plan of care—and is responsible for executing that plan.

Nurses are with patients seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We “know” our patients. We know their needs, wants and desires. We know their families, and we know what needs to be done to give the patient and his family the best possible outcome during a time of crisis. The same cannot be said of physicians or of hospital administrators.

Our practice is based on theory. The theories direct our nursing care of the patient and guide our discipline. Nursing is unique in that it involves interactions between nurses and patients that help the healing process.

Nurses are with patients at the most vulnerable time in their lives. We rejoice with them as they welcome new lives into the world. It is the nurse who holds patients who are in pain, or even dying. We support their families as they hear the heartbreaking news of a life-altering diagnosis. We are there to hold their hands as physicians tell them there is nothing more that can be done. We are the ones who look our patients in the eyes and try to console.

We know our patients’ names. We do not have to look in the chart. When we talk to them, we use their names—not because they are just patients in beds, but because they are people whose lives or deaths will directly affect us at the most personal level.

With the advent of preventative care and community health, people are learning to take better care of themselves at home. However, when a person does come to the hospital, he or she is then even more ill and needs much more care. This is the reason you will never see nursing care on a hospital bill.

The care of a patient can change drastically from day to day, from shift to shift and from minute to minute. There is no way to itemize the care that a nurse gives to a patient that could possibly include all that the nurse does.

We are mentors, teachers, resource people, advocates, students, researchers and caregivers. We are all of these to our patients, our colleagues, student nurses, new graduates and ourselves. That is why we fight for a voice and recognition in our profession.

Nurses are the lifeblood of a health care facility—without us, a hospital cannot stand.

We are the heart of health care today.