Nursing the Gift of Empathy: 2020 WHO Year of the Nurse and the Midwife
Guest Post by Pat
Pat has a husband, three amazing children and two perfect granddaughters She lives on a large acreage where she enjoy walking, quilting and watching KDramas.
I started nursing school almost 50 years ago. I don’t remember any nurses from my childhood that had an influence on my career. In fact, I would have chosen a completely different career if it hadn’t been for my patriarchal blessing.
I was baptized at age sixteen (the only one in my family to do so) in a small coastal community in British Columbia, Canada. I received my patriarchal blessing the next year. In it, I was told not only to get an education so that I could provide for my family (which was unheard of advice in 1969), but also to get a knowledge of the laws of health. So, when I graduated from high school in 1970, I headed to Vancouver to enroll in nursing school. I had no idea what to expect, but almost from the first day, I fell in love with not only my patients but also my career. It spoke to my soul. It was when I was with my patients, that I learned to communicate heart to heart, spirit to spirit. I don’t really understand the process that I went through to learn this, and it’s still a work in progress but it seemed to me to be both a gift that I have been given as well as a by-product of immersing myself into the service I rendered and truly trying to look into a person’s heart with no ulterior expectations or motives. It was something that has blessed my life in many ways. It has helped protect me and shield me in recognizing spiritual and or physical danger. It has brought me immense joy and self-fulfillment.
I served a Church Welfare Services Mission (‘Health Mission”) to Colombia when I was 22 years old. In this, I was able to use the knowledge gained in my career to teach the people about basic nutrition, health concepts and even sex ed/prenatal classes to a couple who were pregnant. It was there that I began, in embryo, to start to understand the concept of ‘to love as the Savior loved’. King Benjamin taught in Mosiah 2:17 that,
“when you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God”.
Throughout my career, I felt that because of this teaching, I was able to extend a blanket of love and kindness to those I worked with. I am grateful for my mission that helped me begin to understand this most basic principle, that for me is a foundation for spiritual growth.
A colleague who taught an evening psychology class once told me that she described me to her class. She said that being around me felt like being enveloped in love. I attribute that directly to the Spirit who used me as a vehicle to support those with whom I worked. I had many spiritual experiences while working with patients and often felt the Spirit in guiding me how to comfort, motivate, and uplift those whose lives I touched.
As I developed my empathetic abilities, I often absorbed the feelings of others. At times, I felt overwhelmed, especially when their feelings were strong, negative or despairing and my patients desperately wanted to share these feelings with me. I learned how to navigate this in a healthy way, for both myself and my patients, while still retaining my ability to sense and feel the emotions of others.
Because this became such an important part of my career and my soul, I have had difficulty with those, who had little emotion or empathy of their own, would try to manipulate mine. Learning to set clear boundaries was the way I maneuvered this. Boundary setting doesn’t come easily to someone who is empathetic and it was (and is) difficult to learn but it has been such an important skill for me to develop.
Wanting a greater challenge, and being let by the Spirit, at age 50, I went back to school and became a Nurse Practitioner. This was difficult as I was working part time as a Community Nurse, had 2 teenagers and one special needs child, plus my husband was working long hours, often away from home. At times, I questioned whether this was the right thing to do and if I had misinterpreted my Spiritual promptings. My husband also found it hard and struggled with the pressure that this put on my family. I went to my Bishop several times for a blessing for inspiration. Each time, he would, with tears running down his face, say that he knew that it was challenging for me and my family, but it was what Heavenly Father wanted me to do. This not only helped give me the strength to keep going even though it was difficult, but it also gave a measure of strength to my husband.
I was able to work for 10 years as a Nurse Practitioner before retiring from clinical practice. This was the most fulfilling part of my career. I worked with many women who were wanting to be heard and would break down in tears as I listened to them. They would tell me that I was the first health care professional who had really listened to them and had helped them with a proper diagnosis and treatment. I worked with people who society might want to hide away; those experiencing substance abuse, dealing with trauma, mental illness, and poverty. I absolutely have no regrets about going back to school. I learned so much about people and so much about myself. I felt that I was able to accomplish so much more for my small community that I might not have been able to accomplish otherwise.
When I retired from clinical practice, I so missed all of them. Each one of me taught me something different and filled my heart in a different way. I still teach an on-line course every semester as I’m having a hard time letting go of that definition of who I am (a nurse). And although I enjoy the students very much, I find that I have been struggling spiritually since retiring. Neither my callings, nor my other activities have filled that void. And so, I find myself again, searching for ‘a new calling’, one that will help me feel that spiritual fulfillment.
I am so grateful that I have been able to be a nurse for so many years. It has fulfilled me spiritually, socially, intellectually and emotionally. If anyone were to ask me if they should consider nursing as a career, my answer would be absolutely!