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A Lesson for National Nurses' Week

By Alene Nitzky, PhD, RN, OCN
A few weeks ago, Washington State Senator Maureen Walsh made an indiscriminate comment about nurses playing cards all day. It caused an uproar among nurses online, and within days, a social media group called Nurses with Cards was launched. It now has over a quarter million members.

As I’ve watched this issue morph into something unexpected, I’ve also observed the dynamic within the group that holds lessons for oncology nurses.

At first, the outrage was the pulse of the posts in the group, and as national attention was drawn to the gaffe and the response by nurses, the tone of the online posts changed. Ordinary nursing-related posts started to appear. Members started to ask questions that ranged from nursing skills to ethical and legal questions. Some new nurses even asked if their feelings about on-the-job experiences were normal.

Nurses–especially new ones–need a safe place to confide in other nurses and receive feedback and support that they may not be getting in the workplace. Time isn’t always provided for them to receive mentoring, feedback, and debriefing after difficult or traumatic experiences at work. They need help, but they don’t always know what they need, or at what time. They can feel overloaded easily. It takes years to build confidence and comfort with newly acquired knowledge and skills.

I thought of newly diagnosed patients with cancer in their state of overwhelm and need for support and information at a time when there is no room for more input. The state of not knowing where to go, whom to trust, what resources would be most helpful, or at what time, compounds the difficulty of the experience. Like our patients, new nurses are scared and vulnerable. They have a big job to do. Can we care for our new nurses as well?

As oncology nurses, we have a special job and duty to our patients to help them through a terrifying experience in their place of vulnerability. The need for validation that their feelings are normal, and that they have somewhere to go to get questions answered and their concerns heard, is what new cancer patients and new nurses have in common.

We wouldn’t ever expect a newly diagnosed patient to handle everything that comes their way at once. Can we do the same for our fellow nurses? Why should we treat our new nurses–or even our seasoned ones–like they need to shoulder the entire load?
Nurses need support from each other to do their best. We’re already working ourselves to the edge. Let’s help bring each other back a few steps so we’re not in danger of falling.
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