Leadership Academy

“For nurses, underneath the tasks is a commitment to making things better.”

Posted by: Dr Clare Price-Dowd - Posted on:

In her fifth blog of a series, Clare Price-Dowd, senior lead for evaluation and patient experience at the NHS Leadership Academy, talks about the importance of commitment and explores why it’s an important part of a nurse’s DNA.

We’d hope that all nurses are committed to what they do, but what does it really mean? Being a nurse is not purely transactional, so we really need to be committed professionals don’t we?

When you tell people you’re a nurse, one of the first things they say is: “You must be so dedicated – you need so much commitment to be a nurse”. Commitment is more than the quality of being truly dedicated to something.

Commitment to improving the experience of patients, carers and colleagues

Yes, we get paid to do what we do, but there’s something about commitment – that emotional attachment to being a nurse – that takes doing your job to a whole other level. Underneath the tasks, the thing that goes right through the middle of nursing like words through a stick of rock is a commitment to making things better. Commitment is about striving for continuous improvement, constantly looking at things and exploring ways of doing them differently. If we don’t have this desire to make things better then at best they’ll stay as they are, but at worst, they’ll start to deteriorate.

For me, this unwavering, unfailing wish to continue making things better for patients, carers and colleagues so that we’re working and practising in the optimum environment is all part of the commitment that goes along with being a nurse.

Commitment to ourselves as nurses

Nurses are committed to caring for those around them, but you can’t pour from an empty cup. The commitment to others is only any good if we extend it to ourselves, taking a little bit of time to self-care. Maybe your shift didn’t go as you’d hoped or something happened which meant you didn’t get that stack of paperwork done. Maybe you were slightly later getting to somewhere at the end of the day. Whatever it was, don’t beat yourself up! There’s always a good reason why our days go a bit haywire and sometimes it’s purely the commitment we have for the job that means that happens. If we weren’t committed, we’d walk out at the end of the shift and it would be somebody else’s problem to sort out. But no – we stay, we show discretionary effort to colleagues and patients to make sure they stay safe and get the best possible quality of care.

Being committed to ourselves as nurses also involves keeping up to date with the most relevant and evidence-based treatments and services, as well as making sure we maintain our registration through the new validation process. I’ve recently been through this and it really made me think about what it means to be a nurse.

Even though I don’t work in frontline practice anymore, I thought about being committed to the profession of nursing and keep up to date, reading, talking to peers and learning from each other. We can also gain new insight from patients and the people we meet every day.

Keeping up to date means you’ll stay in a position that will enable you to practice effectively, but also means that sometimes, you can do a great job while being kind to yourself and the people around you.

Commitment to the profession

Being a nurse never leaves you; it starts from the minute you go into training and stays with you your whole life. You don’t stop being a nurse when you take off your uniform; you’re always a nurse. From the very first day that you put on your nursing uniform, you’re telling the world that you chose caring as a career. That’s a pretty amazing feeling.

Upholding and staying committed to the professional values of nursing is paramount. I have friends and colleagues that have decided not to continue with their professional registration for various reasons, but the minute you get into a conversation with them about what they do, they always tell you they’re a nurse by background.

And it doesn’t finish when you retire – nursing skills are skills for life. It’s not just the clinical skills but the interpersonal skills, the caring skills, the logical thinking skills, the problem-solving skills, the analytical skills – everything that you are as a nurse comes together into a beautiful package of skills for life. But in our multimedia world, it’s easy to sometimes forget that those things are open to everybody else to see. For me, commitment should include being mindful of what we portray about ourselves on social media and asking what that says about the profession of nursing.

Nowadays, we’re only a click away from all of the information we need on anyone and everyone. Just as patients can be incredibly savvy now about their treatments, they’re just as likely to google their surgeon and their hospital and any prescribed treatments. I think that as people in the nursing profession, we should be savvy about what we share from our activities outside of work. You could argue that on social media this really shouldn’t matter, but for me it does. Think about how easy it is for anyone to access your public profile, how easy it is to portray a version of ourselves that lays us open to criticism.  A senior colleague told me recently they always have a look at social media profiles of candidates prior to interviewing – think about what that might say about you if you are thinking of a career move? I’m not saying we shouldn’t share information, it’s a balance and being mindful about what we share publically. It’s about being committed to upholding the professional values of nursing.

The subtext of all of the above is that nursing isn’t something you can do if you’re not wholly committed to the profession. I’d even go as far as saying you’ll do more harm than good. Patients – particularly the vulnerable and the elderly – want to feel cared for. They have a right to feel respected and cared for, and that will come from people who are committed to the art and science of nursing, committed to making sure that they get better and give patients and carers the best experience they can in the life they’ve got left. That can only be delivered by people who uphold the values.

But I’m definitely not saying it’s easy to maintain this commitment all the time. When you’re working on a busy, heavy ward which is under-staffed and you sometimes feel under-valued, it’s easy to ask why you should be committed when nobody is committed to you. Now more then ever we need to be resilient and draw on this inner strength we all have.

But for colleagues whose vocation is nursing, it is often a reward in itself. The reward of knowing you gave the highest quality care you could and knowing you did that in a team of colleagues who share your commitment too.

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