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How to Handle the Emotions that Come with Nursing

"Nurses are Angels in comfortable shoes."  ~Author Unknown

Sure, they wear comfortable shoes.  But how emotionally comfortable is it to really walk a mile in a nurse's shoes?

There is no doubt that nursing as a profession is truly respected.  Day in and day out, nurses not only take care of a patient's basic needs, they act as the constant pillar of support during difficult times, both physically and emotionally.  But is nursing really understood?

Common Questions About Nursing

  • How do you do it?
  • Don't you get depressed?
  • How do you handle losing a patient?
  • How do you separate your work life from your personal life?

To really understand the answers to these questions, you most likely have to have some direct experience working as a nurse.  But if you are contemplating enrolling in nursing school, whether it be through one of many online schools or an on-campus nursing program, it is helpful to get some first-hand insight from more experienced nurses who have gone through what you will eventually experience.

According to Nurse Colleen Carey, "It's only natural that we become very close to our patients and their families, as we support them through challenging times," she says. "But, in turn, our patients teach us the meaning of strength, courage and hope. As nurses, we gain far more from our patients."

Being a Long-Term Care Nurse

Registered Nurse MarDee Dahlin didn't think nursing was easy when she first started, but soon came to realize that there are some things you just have to accept; so why not help along the way.  MarDee comments: "When I first started working in long-term care, after I'd been in a hospital setting, I bet I went home crying every night for 6 weeks because I said this just isn't what I like. But the more I stayed, the more I understood it's a different kind of nursing...We're all going to die-that's a part of life. Just when and how, we don't know."

Kathy Eagan, a certified hospice and palliative nurse, had this to say: "It's a matter of recognizing loss, acknowledging loss, reconstructing those relationships, working in a supportive team environment.  The staff here talks about the people who died; we process the grief. We ask how the family's doing, even long after the death. We ask the question: What did this experience do for me? What lessons did the dying person give back to us, what can we use to better care for the next patient? That's how you invest the experience - with meaning and purpose - so you end up with gain, not just loss."

Now that we've discussed how nurses can nurture themselves and their fellow colleagues through emotionally difficult times, what can a nurse do to nurture a patient?

A nurse can do the following to be truly empathetic to patients:

  • Remember empathy without communication is mind reading
  • Listen to patients and allow them to express their feelings
  • Reflect back what you hear so they can clarify their thoughts
  • Don't be judgmental
  • Don't say, "I know how you feel"
  • Make eye contact
  • Provide education, but don't give advice
  • Be knowledgeable about their illness
  • Acknowledge their right to feel as they do. This is an essential step in showing you are trying to understand

Whether you're a potential nursing student who is researching nursing degree options, a registered nurse with 5 years experience, or a long-term care nurse who works with dying patients in a hospice setting, it is important to remember one thing: you are human.  Nurture yourself, and ask for help when you need it.  After all, isn't that what nursing is all about?


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