Break Room

What does it mean to be a “good nurse”?


Kati Kleber, RNKati Kleber, RN

I’ve been very blessed in my short career as a nurse. I have worked at some amazing hospitals, and have had some even more astounding coworkers. I’ve worked in various areas of different hospitals, and through that, I think I have discovered what it means to be a good nurse.

There is something about a good nurse. Having a nursing license and job doesn’t make you a good nurse. Working for 30 years doesn’t make you a good nurse. It’s not about being a good IV starter or being best friends with all of the physicians.

It’s so much less defined and measurable than that. It isn’t measured in letters after your name, certifications, professional affiliations or by climbing the clinical ladder.

It’s something you feel when you see a good nurse care for their patients. It’s that security you see in their patient’s eyes when they come in to care for them. It’s that nurse whose patient’s family member will finally go home to sleep and shower because they know their loved one is cared for with that nurse.

Good nurses breathe instinct. They breathe discernment. Good nurses can pick out seemingly insignificant things about a patient, interpret an intricate clinical picture, somehow predict a poor outcome and bring it to the doctor’s attention, literally saving someone’s life.

And then there’s that heart knowledge that good nurses have that blows me away even more.

There are those nurses who always know the right thing to say. They know how to calm an apprehensive and scared mother enough to let them take care of her son.

They know how to reexplain the worst news a husband is ever going to hear because it didn’t quite make sense when the doctor said it 15 minutes ago. And they know how to comfort and reassure him when they see it click in his mind that his wife is forever gone.

They know when to just sit and listen to a man tell his entire life story, who just learned that he’s essentially dying slowly. They know how to make him feel important, valued and cared for. They know that is now their priority, not charting the assessment they just did on their last patient or seeing if their coworker needs to go to lunch.

They’re the nurses whose instincts all of the doctors trust.

They know how to make coworkers who hate each other work together.

They know when they need to have a come to Jesus meeting when someone is in denial about the severity of the decisions they’re making that are literally killing them. And they listen.

They are the ones with whom patients, families and coworkers feel comfortable being painfully and embarrassingly honest.

They also know, when things start going downhill, how to quickly grab control of a room full of frantic people. They know how to convey urgency, not terror. They somehow make you feel safe when someone’s life is literally a breath away.

Those nurses are my heroes. They’re who I aspire to be every time I put my badge on in the morning. They’re who I hope I have been when I clock out. They’re the good nurses.

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Learning how to be a great nurse at the bedside while maintaining your sanity at home is no easy task. Becoming Nursey: From Code Blues to Code Browns, How to Take Care of Your Patients and Yourself talks about how to realistically live as a nurse, both at home and at the bedside…with a little humor and some shenanigans along the way. Get ready: It’s about to get real, real nursey. You can  get your own copy at at (pdf), Amazon (paperback) or Goodreads (ebook).

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