Pediatric Nurse – I Could Never Do That Job. How do you do it?
I can’t tell you how many times I get asked this question. I’ve been a pediatric nurse for over 20 years and I can’t imagine not doing the job I do.
How do we do it? Nurses just do it. When we are at work, we work. There is a lot of research that talks about the type of personality you need or the qualities you should possess to become a nurse. Nursing schools and hospitals often say to be a successful nurse you need to be compassionate. Radley and Figley (2007) describe compassion as the “awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it”. I don’t think I thought about being a nurse in those terms, I just knew I wanted to be able to help make people feel better. What I also didn’t think about when considering a career in nursing, is what it is like to work with others who have a similar drive and passion for helping people.
Don’t get me wrong. For most people, it is hard to see someone sick and that is especially true when that someone is a child. Over time many nurses, whether they are caring for adults or children, develop what is called compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a term that has been used to describe the physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion resulting from caring for patients and witnessing pain and suffering.
I was lucky that early on in my nursing career I had a mentor who talked to me about avoiding compassion fatigue or what she called “nurse burnout”. She tried to teach me the importance of a work-life balance, taking care of myself and the importance of being a good communicator. And I did just that! I was very lucky that throughout most of my children’s elementary school years, I could cut back and only work at the hospital part time.
I am also incredibly fortunate to have a very supportive family. My mother was a Marriage and Family Therapist (what’s better than free therapy) and my husband has always been a great listener. I can remember coming home from working the night shift in the pediatric intensive care unit to my husband who was just getting up with the kids. I would start to tell him about my night. Most of the time he would quietly listen as I expounded on the details of my last 8 hours. Occasionally when I was either going into too much detail or when he could tell that my story might not end well, he would stop me and ask, “Am I going to benefit from hearing this story?” I would pause and think, ‘Did he really need to relive my night with me?’ Most of the time the answer was no. I would change the subject and move on and help him get the kids ready for school. But on a rare occasion, I think he could tell that hearing my story might not benefit him but it was a story that would benefit me to tell. He would continue to listen quietly as I finished or just reach over and hold me as I silently thought about my night.
Being a pediatric nurse allows me to do just what I love, being with kids. In the late 90s there was a show I loved to watch called “Kids Say the Darnedest Things”. Well, I get to experience these darned things almost every day I work. For instance, I asked a patient who was getting ready for surgery if he was worried about anything and he replied, “My mom says I might talk different after I get my tonsils out but I just hope I won’t talk like my gramma”.
Another little boy who was waking up from anesthesia told me I looked just like Zordon. I came to find out from his brother that Zordon is a character in a video game and no, it was not a good thing to look like Zordon.
When you work in pediatrics you’re not just talking care of a child, you’re taking care of a family. Children don’t usually come alone, they come as a package. Sometimes that dynamic includes one or two parents or guardians, there are often siblings, extended family members and also friends. However, they come, it is different each time.
I can honestly say when I go to work – I am rarely bored; I regularly smile and often laugh; I am routinely pushed both physically and emotionally; I am periodically scared and I occasionally cry and I am so lucky to be given the privilege of taking care of someone’s child.
Radley, F., & Figley, C. (2007). The social psychology of compassion. Clinical Social Work Journal, 35, 207–214. doi:10.1007/ s10615-007-0087-3
Some interesting related articles –
- Why Men Who Marry Nurses End Up The Happiest
- Good Grief: How Nurses Cope With Patient Deaths
- 10 Strategies to Cope With Stress in Nursing
- An Unusual Coping Method is Helping Nurses Find Peace At Work