Thursday, July 2, 2015

Traits of a Great Nurse: One Patient's Perspective

This post is dedicated to all the nurses at UWMC Labor and Delivery, especially Mary M, Lori, Ann, Anna, Tammy, Jane, Karen, Lila, Christine, Bekah, Nadine, Sharon, and Laurie.


One good way to understand what makes an effective and empathetic nurse is to rely on their care for multiple days. Without intending to conduct such a study, I recently had an opportunity to do just that. Due to a sudden onset of severe preeclampsia with HELLP syndrome, I was rushed to the University of Washington Medical Center's Labor and Delivery six and a half weeks before my due date. Thanks to the excellent care I received, my son was born safe and sound on Saturday, June 6 at 8:58am.

I am so thankful to each nurse that I met before, during and after delivery (one for day shift and one for night shift with few repeats). I was so impressed with their consistent positivity, skill and good humor that I kept a list of traits to remember. Becoming a mother has already made me more attentive to being the best version of myself possible, starting with the example of my caregivers.

In case you were curious, here's my take on what makes a great nurse.

Bedside Manner

As the days spent in the hospital before delivery added up, I felt increasingly like a helpless and possibly crazy person. The drugs I was given messed with my head, I couldn’t get to the bathroom without help and I needed food and water brought to me in bed. It was uncomfortable to be so needy. But I was treated with nothing but respect and dignity.

All my nurses acted as if it was normal to suddenly require help to use the toilet, not shower for days and have no control over my surroundings or my appearance. Their calm and collected demeanor normalized the whole situation for me. That was comforting. Those that related to me as if everything was in order (bantering, cracking jokes, laughing along with my interactions with Hubbins) were my favorites. It didn't seem impossible to imagine being friends in another context.


All my nurses were down to earth and very easy to talk to. None of them made me feel like an imposition. As far as I knew, I was the only patient in the entire hospital: every shift change, I was the primary focus. It helped me to understand what was going on when I overheard each nurse give their replacement a synopsis of the last 12 hours of my care.

By day two, I was overwhelmed by so many new faces (especially when shift assignments changed mid-day). A new nurse meant another personality to learn and communication style to adapt to. But as time went on I got to know so many fun women. It became a source of entertainment to meet the next nurse! I don't know if their confidence and joie de vivre came as easily as they made it seem, but both were effective methods for putting me at ease.


The nurses who tidied my room throughout their shift made me feel the most cared-for. They took unnecessary items out of the room (empty food containers, used linens, medical equipment that was no longer needed) and cleaned all surfaces of clutter. Then they focused on what I needed without distraction. 

“Can I bring your another cold pack?” Yes, please! 

“Refill your ice water?” Yes, please! 

“Do you need another pillow?” Yes, please!

There are several nurses in my life. I don't know why I didn't make this connection before, between close control of environment and professional necessity. Of COURSE nurses like clean work spaces and carefully monitored surroundings - they are assigned  new patients and rooms constantly, they perform medical procedures that require cleanliness, they are continually picking up where someone else left off and leaving something behind for another nurse (a patient, a room, or a report). I get it now. While extraneous fussing and fidgeting got on my nerves in the past, I can now see those behaviors in a brand new light: occupational efficiency. 

I have a whole new respect and admiration for nurses everywhere. Keep up the good work.

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