When I think of the word "holistic", the next word that comes to mind is "alternative." Holistic medicine is defined as "a form of healing that considers the whole person—body, mind, spirit, and emotions—in the quest for optimal health and wellness." A doctor that practices holistic medicine often uses conventional and alternative therapies to treat patients; therefore, the association people have with "holistic" and "alternative" isn’t inaccurate.
What then is holistic nursing? Holistic nursing is defined as "all nursing practice that has healing the whole person as its goal." Caring for the WHOLE person does not just involve the care of their physical body, but includes caring for their mind and soul as well. The field of nursing is an indescribably stressful one. When you work at the bedside, your focus is acute care. Striving to heal them of their ailments, you assess and then reassess your patients, take vital signs, and give medicine for 12 long hours. With sometimes less than ideal staffing ratios, nurses often only have enough time to address the required aspects of care. But what about how the illness is affecting the patient and family mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I’m sure we can all agree that we’d like to provide the best care possible to our patients each and every day. No matter how rushed, stressed, and over-extended we may feel at times, making a conscious effort to practice holistic nursing will not only bless your patients, it will bless you as well. It is not necessarily about the quantity of time you spend with patients, it is about the quality of the interactions. Though you may be rushed, don’t let it appear that way. Make eye contact and use their name. Ask how they are doing and genuinely care when they respond. See them as an individual, not as the patient in Room 206.
Working in the field of pediatric oncology nursing, the reality of the need for holistic nursing has never been more evident to me. Cancer is life altering on a level that no one can truly understand unless they’ve experienced it first-hand. The patient and family will likely never be the same again. We are doing our patients and their families a disservice if we just focus on acutely treating the cancer, following the treatment plan and not addressing anything else. What about how this new journey is affecting the patient and family emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even financially? A patient's emotional and mental well-being have been proven to affect their physical well-being. The financial burden of cancer care can cause additional stress for the caregivers. Make an effort and get them the help they need, whether that be referring them to a counselor, calling in a chaplain, or connecting them with local organizations who provide financial assistance. This all seems so logical, but we often don’t make the effort for whatever the reason may be.
With the common and often immediate association between "holistic" and "alternative," further education on what holistic means exactly seems warranted. Though this association is accurate regarding holistic medicine, holistic nursing might be better understood if we looked at it as WHOLElistic, caring for the WHOLE patient. I encourage you to embrace WHOLElistic nursing as your new normal.