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NJ Nurse Fired for Painting a Portrait of Hospice Patient

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Many of us are used to going above and beyond for our patients, but one nurse recently found out that some gestures can get you into trouble. The nurse painted a portrait of a hospice patient, as per her request, only to be fired several days later for not focusing on her nursing duties.

A Sweet Gesture Gone Wrong

The nurse in question posted a viral Reddit story describing the incident. She works at a hospice facility in New Jersey where COVID-19 safety guidelines are still in effect. Only a few visitors are allowed in the building at the same time, depriving patients of some much-needed human interaction.

The nurse was caring for a 53-year-old cancer patient, who she describes as “incredibly sweet.” One of her last requests was to have her portrait painted. She told the nurse that no one has ever drawn her, and the portrait would mean a lot to her.

The nurse asked her manager if they could have an artist come in and paint the patient before the patient died, but the request was denied. However, the nurse was an artist herself before deciding to become a nurse, so she decided to paint the portrait herself. She brought her supplies to work and completed the portrait during her lunch break and about 30 minutes of the company’s time, but she says her co-worker was more than happy to cover for her.

“The patient and family loved it. They instantly cried once they saw it and thanked me tremendously. The patient was obviously so grateful, and the family appreciated my work,” the nurse wrote.

Several days later, the nurse showed up for work at 7 AM for her morning shift, but something was amiss. She says her nursing manager called her into her office and said, “Did you paint a portrait for (name of patient)?”

The nurse said yes and explained her reasons for doing so.

However, the manager responded with, “Your role here is an RN, not an artist, we are going to have to terminate your employment effective immediately.”

The nurse was shocked to lose her job over the incident. “Needless to say, I am shocked and hurt. I don’t know what I did wrong. I miss my job already and it’s only been gone two hours,” she posted on Reddit.

Should She Have Been Fired?

Nurses are supposed to address the full range of human experience as it relates to health and wellness, including health promotion, restoration, and palliation. Painting a portrait of a patient may not be the same as administering medication, but these kinds of gestures often come with enormous health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, relieving anxiety, and improving the patient’s mood.

Once the post went live, many nurses rallied to her cause. They contributed to the conversation by sharing some of the ways they go above and beyond for their patients.

One nurse responded with, “This is insane. I cut hair, paint nails, read books and dance with my patients. This is a blessing.”

Another user chimed in with, “That’s brutal of management. Guess they’re not big on holistic care of the patient. You did something incredibly meaningful for a (dying) patient and her family, and you were heartlessly penalized in an extreme way. If I were in that situation, I’d rather have you as my nurse than a task-oriented/check the boxes nurse any day. I’m sorry this happened to you and I’m sure the patient and her family and your other patients will miss your thoughtful care.”

“Provided you didn’t get paid, I can’t see ANYTHING wrong with what you did. It was sweet and wonderful, and you provided above-and-beyond care for your patient,” another user commented.

If you’re planning on doing a grand gesture for one of your patients, check your employee contract beforehand to make sure these kinds of acts are permissible in the workplace. Talk to your nursing manager about your plans to see if they comply with the rules. If not, try to come up with a feasible solution that won’t get you fired.

Chances are that your patients would rather have you around than not, so it’s usually better to be safe than sorry. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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