Dealing with severe health problems is life changing. Talking about death is never easy. Going through a major life transition is almost always hard. But for nurses, navigating those issues is all in a day’s work.
“Current challenges in health care require new paradigms of leadership,” says nursing dean Dorrie Fontaine. “Some say we have lost the soul of health care. (Others) question their career choice due to a broken heart. Still others point to the business notions of health care eroding a sense of true caring and compassion for our patients, families, communities, and even our students.
“Whether it’s the need for creative optimism, a hope for increased self-awareness in ourselves and colleagues, or a plan to truly harness the talents of the entire health care workforce, many are craving a new path to leadership and action to relieve human anxiety and suffering.
“Compassion is not a choice,” she adds, “but a necessary ingredient in caring for patients and families. Organizations need to choose compassion.”
The Compassionate Care Initiative exists to create dialogue around and preparedness for nurses who deal every day with people in life-changing situations–one-time or chronic illness, terminal disease, end-of-life care and even death itself–and all the highly-charged, complex issues surrounding them. The CCI focuses on systems that optimize patients’ and their family’s quality of life, incorporate compassion and empathy into personal behavior, interprofessional interactions and encounters with patients and families. We’re developing clinical, educational and research initiatives that further those aims. Our ultimate vision is to reduce human suffering and promote health and well-being by fostering compassionate people and systems.
It all starts with a journal. Each nursing student is encouraged to jot down thoughts from their classes, from their rotations, from their patient and family interactions. The idea is simple, but poignant. Pause. Listen. Feel. Reflect. Then respond.
CCI faculty offer retreats and workshops on dealing with death and dying for people across the spectrum. We teach resilience, encourage mindfulness and meditation, prompt discussion and employ peace and compassion. There is nothing easy about life as a nurse, but through discussion and meditation, we can grow resilient together and establish compassion as an element in the workplace and system.
“For most people, the capacity to be deeply aware of their own experience, or another’s experience, must be cultivated through practices and processes that teach us how to be still inside,” explains Fontaine. “How to quiet our minds, sense our bodies, and tap into an innate, deep well of wisdom and creativity that can serve us in extraordinary ways… We can learn to be thoughtful, watchful, and observant.”