Nurses Reflect on What They’re Most Grateful for About the Profession
It has been 25 years since Tracy Jones-Darnell took the Nightingale pledge to become a nurse. During this quarter century, Jones-Darnell formed close bonds with the women she practiced alongside and felt the impacts of the nursing profession on the way she sees the world.
"I am thankful that I am a nurse because it has made me a better friend, wife, mother, sister, and daughter," Jones-Darnell said. "Because of my nursing experience, I look at the world with kinder eyes."
The choice of becoming a nurse is different for everyone. For some, it is a calling, a passion for making a difference and healing a community. For others, it is a guarantee for financial security and the ability to support their family. Most of the time, it's a bit of both.
Being a nurse comes with emotional and physical challenges, as well as lifelong rewards. The impacts of nursing stay with a person for a lifetime.
Throughout her time as a registered nurse and now nurse educator, Jones-Darnell has found the financial stability and flexibility to provide for her family and become a strong role model for her children. As a single mother, being a nurse provided her the ability to schedule her family life around her job, a privilege often hard to come by.
"As a divorced, single mom, nursing provided financial stability," Jones-Darnell said. "Being a nurse allows me to role model a strong, successful woman to my children."
The Rewards of Nursing Are Abundant
The profession is praised for its nursing benefits like financial security and stability. Nurses have the flexibility to pivot several times without needing to leave the profession. They also have the flexibility to travel while maintaining the same role.
"Not many professions get to bookend humanity and leave their imprint on lives like nurses." — Karrie Brazaski
While financial and occupational security is a significant reward of nursing, the profession requires a tremendous amount of responsibility, compassion, patience, and dedication.
There is an immense trust placed in nurses. People bring their loved ones at their most vulnerable times and rely on nurses to love and care for them. Nurses are there when most babies are born into this world and when loved ones take their last breath. For Karrie Brazaski, a nurse and healthcare executive with three decades of experience, this is an enormous privilege.
"Not many professions get to bookend humanity and leave their imprint on lives like nurses," Brazaski said.
Encouraging and helping people in desperate situations comes as a reward to many nurses, primarily when nurses can provide a way to make an awful situation more bearable and eventually witness the discharge of a patient staff thought would not make it.
Nurses see the beauty of birth and watch as a new dad becomes tearful with the joy and love of childbirth. They also aid in the celebration of life before death by helping a cancer patient have their last birthday party with their family from an intensive care unit.
For Brazaski, the rewards do not have to be grand. Gratitude often comes in small ways, like having that first drink of Coke with a patient after they get off a ventilator or receiving a silent thank you from a spouse.
Similarly, Jones-Darnell appreciates the reward of seeing her patient in the grocery store and having them introduce her to their families like they are long-time friends. Seeing a patient live a full and healthy life, when days before they were so close to death, is an unmatched reward many nurses treasure.
"Strangers allow us as nurses to be a witness to their most vulnerable moments, and each one of them is a blessing, and a memory etched in our hearts," Brazaski said.
Fostering Gratitude Toward the Impacts of Nursing
Many nurses feel deep gratitude toward the privilege to care for and witness humanity at its most vulnerable. With this unique experience comes many rewards and blessings, all great in their own manner.
"Nursing allows you to see the underbelly of humanity," said Brazaski, founder of Helping Healthcare Heroes. "Sometimes the most unbelievable events happen to people, but you also witness the resilience of our human nature."
Each nurse takes the Nightingale pledge to practice the nursing profession. The words of this pledge resonate differently for each nurse.
"It doesn't matter what the reason was for entering this profession, because the reason we all stay [is] in the hope of making a positive difference in the lives of our patients," Jones-Darnell said.
Nurses find their lives, too, changed by the profession. Brazaski owes her increased empathy and compassion to nursing, along with her ability to climb the ladder from staff nurse to chief nursing officer, to chief operating officer, to now business owner.
But this profession, often full of empaths with a sincere passion for the work, can bring on nurse burnout and job-related trauma, especially for nurses working during the COVID-19 pandemic. This loss in work-life balance and unaddressed chronic stress has led to nurses stepping away from the profession.
Research shows that nurses are experiencing the highest stress levels ever recorded, compared to other professions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The need for self-care for nurses' health and nurse leaders who prioritize mental well-being is vital for staff retention.
During these unprecedented times, nurses find support in family, friends, faith, and the role nurses play in the community's well-being.
"Knowing how important nurses are to the well-being of the community and to each other has encouraged me the most," said Karen Ouzts, a long-time nurse educator with expertise in public health. "During the hard and stressful times of being a nurse, my faith, husband, family, and friends have kept me going."
Finding Inspiration Even During Hard Times
Inspiration is found every day as a bedside nurse. Seeing the fragility and preciousness of life, for Brazaski, was a constant reminder that she was there to help make a difference in the individuals she treats in her community.
Being a public health nurse who works directly with the community has inspired and changed Ouzts' outlook on life. She now looks at all relationships in light of preventing problems and promoting well-being, whether with people in need, her family, friends, coworkers, or her community.
"Nursing is my life and a calling, not just a job," Ouzts said. "Because of my experience in nursing, I have been able to care for my family and community in ways I otherwise would not have been able to."
"I am grateful that it is our job to care for strangers who enter our lives as patients and leave as friends." — Tracy Jones-Darnell
Kathleen Lynam after working as a nurse for the majority of her life, has now moved away from bedside nursing into coaching and teaching. She is most grateful for the lessons she learned while working with team members through hurricanes, blizzards, accreditation visits, power failures, and staffing crises.
"[Nursing has given me] the grace to be present to people during their most difficult and vulnerable times," Lynam said. "Being able to support, care, and listen to others in their time of need has changed me profoundly."
Jones-Darnell finds inspiration in the nurses she has worked alongside for 25 years. She finds peace and reassurance in knowing that nurses will care for her loved ones when they fall ill. Nurses and nurse educators foster a specific gratitude for the nurses caring for the sick and dying during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, despite the immense threat nurses face of catching the virus themselves.
Practicing Gratitude Every Day
What nurses may be most thankful for is the support and community they find through each other.
Nurse educators like Jamil Norman, academic coordinator for Walden University, finds inspiration from her student's dedication to social change. Norman admires the impacts these aspiring nurses are making in their community. These students have been working through the COVID-19 pandemic while also maintaining families and furthering their education.
"They truly make me want to do my best," Norman said. "I don't want to let them down."
Whether you're a nurse educator preparing the next generation of nurses, or a bedside nurse witnessing the tides of life, nursing leaves an imprint on every nurse and every patient. By providing life-long friendships, financial security and occupational flexibility, and an overall appreciation for the resilience of humanity, working as a nurse has lasting impacts.
Lynam has worked alongside some nurses for more than 40 years. She celebrates these longtime friendships and the courage and perseverance they have shown her. Lynam has a profound gratitude for her profession and all it's given her, like the resilience she witnesses in the women she's worked with most of her life.
In the months of watching nurses on the front lines battling COVID-19, protecting their communities, the gratitude Lynam has toward those in her profession continues to grow.
"In the last 19 months, I have become grateful for a profession that has overcome unprecedented adversity," Lynam said. "My prayer for my profession is that we continually learn and support each other."
Meet Our Contributors
Karrie Brazaski is the founder of Redwood Executive Coaching where she helps organizations retain their talent so they can be profitable and productive. As a nurse and healthcare executive for three decades, Brazaski works with individuals and organizations to create leadership strategies to retain key talent and ensure stress and burnout are not the causes of lost productivity, profits, or performance.
Brazaski is also the founder of Helping Healthcare Heroes, a 501(c)3 nonprofit providing resources to fight burnout and build resilience in health professionals and first responders.
Karen Ouzts, Ph.D., RN, PHNA-BC, program director for Walden University's RN-BSN program, has more than 25 years of experience in nursing education. Her primary area of expertise is in public health nursing (PHN), enhanced by her master's degree in maternal child health. She has also served as the Wyoming PHN state supervisor. Ouzts is certified as an advanced public health nurse through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Tracy Jones-Darnell, Ed.D., RN, CNE, faculty member for Walden University's RN-BSN program, holds more than 24 years of nursing experience. She is a registered nurse with clinical expertise in medical-surgical nursing and nursing administration. Her professional interests include curriculum development, nursing leadership, and nursing faculty job satisfaction.
Jamil Norman, Ph.D., RN, CNE, academic coordinator for Walden University's RN-to-BSN program, has more than 16 years of experience as a registered nurse and 12 years in higher education. Her areas of expertise include nursing research and women's health. Norman teaches foundations of nursing research and topics in clinical nursing.
Kathleen Lynam answered her calling to be a registered nurse at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where she had an 18-year journey from staff nurse to vice president of acute and ambulatory services. It was here that she found her passion to coach and help healthcare teams. She is now the executive coach for the Healthcare Experience Foundation. A national speaker, Lynam's greatest delight is empowering healthcare teams to thrive.
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