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Dear Nurse: Are you thanked enough?

From the Fall 2010 issue of Scrubs

Dear Calvin,

I can’t thank you enough for the care you gave me during my hospital stay. When you were on duty, I felt safe. Somehow I knew you were going to take care of me. This was a tough surgery. It’s been quite a journey, but along the way I’ve had the privilege to meet some extraordinary people. You are at the top of the list. As promised, I made you an apple pie. I hope it tastes better than it looks! Thank you for your kindness. I’ve said some prayers for you.

Nursing is based on science, yes, but it’s also an emotional business, and there’s no greater reminder of that than when patients express their appreciation for your work. Who doesn’t like to be recognized for what they do? “Letters of thanks are validation,” says Mary Parker, RN, a nurse manager at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. “They show that someone has recognized the good work that you’re doing.”

If you haven’t received thank-you notes, or homemade apple pies, don’t take it as a reflection of how well you’re doing on the job. Let’s face it: Although most patients and their families are extremely grateful to nurses, few actually take the time to formally express their appreciation. Unlike, say, getting a wedding gift, there’s no protocol that says you ought to send written thanks for medical care.

So when someone does take the time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you can bet they’re not just being polite. The sentiments are heartfelt. “Gratitude is not manners,” says M. J. Ryan, author of Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life (Conari Press, 2009). “Gratitude has feelings attached. Gratitude is noticing and appreciating someone’s actions.”

Dear Cheryl,

I want to compliment the care I received from your staff…I particularly want to mention Nancy Beck…and the guided meditation, which I felt was very helpful for relaxing and dealing with this illness…. My regards to you and your staff. Please pass on my thanks to all of them.

No one could have been more surprised by this letter addressed to the president of Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, Mo., than Nancy Beck, the critical care nurse singled out by its author. The letter was from a doctor who was admitted for heart problems, but was also on staff at the hospital. “I had worked with him for many years without much recognition—even of my existence!—so he was not someone I would have expected acknowledgement from,” says Beck. “Just this one letter continues to be motivating.”

While nurses don’t exactly toil in obscurity, sometimes there are days when you give it your all and really make a difference in someone’s life, and nobody but you and a few of your coworkers know about it. “Then,” says Beck, “there are the days when a grateful patient’s family brings in a five-pound box of homemade chocolate fudge.” You made a difference in somebody’s life—maybe you didn’t even realize the effect you had—and it has not only been noted, but celebrated. It’s the small gestures—a short note or, yes, a package of fudge or an apple pie—that make nurses feel most “warm and fuzzy,” says Sheri Monstein, a nurse and project coordinator for the UCLA Health System. More than anything, Beck loves the letters. “Recognition in writing, in particular, is fabulous.”

These unexpected expressions of gratitude can recharge your batteries, reaffirm the reasons you became a nurse in the first place and even help you cope with the difficulties of the job. Recently, the nurses at National Naval Medical Center received a note from a patient who had been particularly irascible, apologizing for his behavior and thanking them for their good work. I’m sorry I was not a good patient for you, he wrote, and I appreciate what you did for me. “A letter like that causes us to not only reconsider that particular patient, but to think more kindly when we encounter a patient like him the next time,” says Parker.

Dear Nurse Manager,

My husband received wonderful care and I want to thank the nurses for their compassion, understanding and highly competent care. They answered his calls with smiling faces and loving hands. They made his stay at St. Luke’s pleasant and as pain-free as possible. The whole staff worked together like a well-oiled machine. They helped each other any time they were called on for help with a patient. All nurses and PCAs seemed to feel responsible for all patients whether they were assigned to them or not. It was amazing to watch them pull together. I have never witnessed such dedication before.

Expressions of thanks for your work can give you a deep sense of personal satisfaction. They can also clue others into how good you are at your job. Many people wisely address complimentary letters to nurses’ supervisors and, career-wise, that can be a real feather in a nurse’s cap. “We keep the notes of appreciation we receive about nurses and put them in their portfolios,” says Parker. “Even if you only have one, it’s worth its weight in gold.”

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Daryn Eller

Daryn Eller is a freelance writer based in Venice, Calif., who has written for Parents, Prevention and Ladies’ Home Journal.
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One Response to Dear Nurse: Are you thanked enough?

  1. Abby

    I was recently a patient in a hospital near my house. About 2 months later, I was at the subway station on my way to clinicals (all decked out in my student white dress and all) and my nurse gets off of the train. As luck would have it, I had just missed my train, so I went over to her and told her who I was. I thanked her for her care, and told her that she had been an inspiration to me. I really would love to send a letter to the hospital, but I don’t know her name. Any ideas?

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