Too many nurses assume we have to be perfect, never make mistakes, and do everything right and on time, regardless of work conditions. Superhumans, all, obvious self-destructive nonsense but there we are. Too many nurses beat each other up over such fantasies, beat themselves up, hide (try) their errors and limitations.
They argue that their “OCD” (another too common nurse nonsense that also mocks the actual illness…) and perfectionism are mandatory, because they toughen nurses up and keep their standards and performance high.
It’s a great story and I honestly believe that many nurses believe in it, it was clearly drilled into them at some point, but it is absolutely contrary to everything we know about human nature and cognitive science. It’s not evidence-based practice, it’s the exact opposite, and it causes nothing but suffering, mistakes, conflict, and lessened performance overall.
Nurses are people, and people are NOT perfect, DO make mistakes, and ARE affected by the conditions under which they work. Which brings me to the reason for this plea for mercy and reason from nurses towards each other and themselves. This perfectionist fantasy has an especially harsh effect on nurses with known imperfections: how can they be nurses? They aren’t perfect! Therefore…
This fantasy needs to end. Our limits are part of our humanity, and nurses who try to ignore humanity and human nature are a sorry lot indeed. I have a history of depression. Does it affect my work? (Duh!) Obviously it does, every life experience does, and this one does in ways that serve my patients well. There is no teacher like experience, yes?
Physicians suffer from the same sort of delusional system I’ve just described, but that’s for another day. Setting high standards and working hard to give the best care possible: clearly both are admirable. I’m a nurse and I’m speaking here to nurses: when you take a good idea and push it too far, you get a delusion, or an obsession, perhaps a compulsion (so to speak). It becomes a symptom, in short, harmful by definition, and no longer admirable or even helpful.
For Nurses Week, let’s give each other the best gift possible: let’s give each other a pat on the back, some well-deserved praise and a break. It’s OK to make mistakes, to be less than perfect. It’s impossible NOT to experience both.
Give yourselves a break, too, folks, and a pat on the back. Be proud of what you do, what you are, what you strive towards. Be proud – Greg says it’s OK, you deserve it.
Don’t let me find out you’ve crossed me on this one, folks!
It’s Nurses Week. Celebrate in style, and with genuine heart, mercy, and camaraderie.
Speaking of Nurses Week, it celebrates Florence Nightingale’s life and birthday. She created modern nursing from scratch against the wishes of most of the ruling establishment of the British Empire. It was the Victorian era, famed for its social rigidity, conservatism and prejudice, yet she created nursing departments and hospitals, fundraised, conducted research, and wrote British laws and regulations. She even bent the iron will of the British Military and its medical establishment to her way of thinking, in a war zone! A true nursing superpower, she also suffered from an often debilitating chronic illness for most of her career, bedridden for weeks at a time. The etiology remains uncertain; some researchers think it may have been Bipolar Disorder. She famously said that she had regrets about every single day of her career, but she managed some small success, yes?
Oh, one last thing: here’s the nice slide show that set me off on this tirade of mercy. It’s from the Exceptional Nurse, and it shows a parade of nurses brave enough to show their limits to the world, AND all excellent nurses too:
Learn from their example and act on it accordingly, folks, because we’re all there with them, one way or another. The rest is just details.
Thanks to Exceptional Nurse founder Donna Maheady, Ed.D., ARNP was the above links, her kind comments on this piece, and for offering an interesting perspective on Florence Nightingale.