In the late 1800s, an otolaryngologist named Dr. Brewster M. Higley wrote the words to the familiar cowboy song “Home on the Range.” The last line promises that “seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.”
Apparently, the western range was an idyllic place for cowboys to work and live. Who wouldn’t thrive in such a pleasant setting?
Ironically, in today’s health care settings, the very places that boldly promote health in body, mind and spirit, we sometimes encounter just the opposite of a peaceful, encouraging work environment. As nurses, we may find ourselves in a very discouraging place with cloudy, stormy, tension-filled skies all around. What happened to encouragement and where can we find it when we need it?
In the several decades of my nursing career, I’ve experienced a wide variety of work environments and cultures. Some places were lacking in the necessary support for nursing both from the top down and also laterally among the peer group. Nurses simply survived the day-to-day routine until burn out set in and they left.
However, I have also worked in places that oozed with life-giving energy and mutual encouragement among the members of the health care team at every level. It was a joy to go to work there each day.
The word encouragement contains the word courage, which comes from the French word coeur, meaning heart. So literally, to encourage someone means to give heart, to embolden. As nurses who continually give of themselves to care for others, we also need that therapeutic dose of encouragement every day.
Where do we get it?
First, encouragement should come from the top down in every organization. In health care, this habit can be hardwired into the nurse leader’s daily routine. While making rounds to ensure the delivery of excellent patient care, he or she should also take the time to sincerely extend the gift of encouragement and inspiration to the nurses in his or her charge and notice people doing things right and acknowledge their efforts.
Real encouragement is specific and genuine, not general and banal. Just a few timely words such as, “Now that’s a thorough assessment!” will be long remembered by a hard-working bedside nurse. Meaningful acknowledgement from the top helps to set the tone of respect and appreciation for professional nurses throughout an organization.
The second source of encouragement should come from one’s peers. It is most likely to bubble up in a department or unit where co-workers feel valued and each job is infused with importance. When the leader is supportive, fair and attentive in his or her dealings with every employee, he or she provides a measure of calm assurance and decreases the likelihood of jealousy among the staff. No one has to “fight” for the boss’s attention. There is no favoritism. This opens the door for mutual respect among the peer group and provides the opportunity for encouraging one another.
I recently worked in a large, women’s services department where the nurses had created a system for publicly recognizing the good deeds of their colleagues. They wrote “thank you” and other acknowledgements on star-shaped paper and pinned them to the bulletin board for all to see. When praise is received from a professional nursing peer who can truly measure and appreciate nursing expertise, that praise is a tremendous source of encouragement.
Finally, at some point nurses must figure out how to encourage themselves and to make self-care a priority. Why not give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done and reward yourself with time spent on maintaining your own health? This includes physical, psychosocial and spiritual choices that promote wellness and wholeness.
I have learned to purposefully schedule time to enjoy the people and activities that invigorate my life. Spiritual nourishment, strenuous exercise, support from respected colleagues, and laughter with family and friends are my prescription for daily encouragement.
I think Dr. Higley would agree.
Peggy Adams received her BSN at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing in 1978 and her MSN at Texas Womens University in the Texas Medical Center in Houston in 1987.
She worked for 10 years in pediatrics at Hermann Hospital (now Memorial Hermann) in Houston. She currently has a consulting business (Adams Consulting) that specializes in individual and group training for those in nursing leadership and management positions. She also coaches new graduates who are seeking their first professional nursing position. Her interview preparation strategies are based on:
- firsthand experience interviewing and hiring nurses as a supervisor,
- personal knowledge of the professional nursing culture of many health care institutions, and
- carefully honed writing and speaking skills.