Career advice

Use reflection to see your work as being about people, not tasks

Heavy workloads can make it hard to see patients as individuals. Reflect on the bad moments, accept you are not perfect, and you will find it easier to notice and change how you react.

Heavy workloads can make it hard to see patients as individuals. Reflect on the bad moments, accept you are not perfect, and you will find it easier to notice and change how you react


Picture: Alamy

Since the introduction of the revalidation process last year, greater emphasis has been placed on what you can learn by reflecting on your practice. The idea is not just to complete the necessary paperwork to retain your registration, but to engage in a process of continuous enquiry so that you can identify potential changes, improvements or knowledge gaps.

Sometimes the greatest learning comes from everyday experiences.

More than a to-do list

Sarah works on an acute medical unit which, like most wards across the country, is always full. Recently, when Sarah walked into her allocated bay one morning, she found herself only able to see ‘what work had to be done’.

She knew that all the patients on the ward would need her assistance, but the ward needed tidying too. For some reason this was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. She was unable to see beyond the mess to the vulnerable patients in her care. It wasn’t until another nurse came in and said a cheery ‘good morning’ to everyone that Sarah ‘came to’.

Thinking back to that moment, Sarah says she feels shocked and ashamed. Throughout her lengthy career she has always taken pride in putting patients first.

Lesson in values

Though she could easily blame workload or fatigue, she knows this incident will stick in her mind as a lesson in values and priorities. She is committed to using how she felt to help her focus on what’s really important: seeing patients as individuals.

Most nurses will be able to relate to Sarah’s experience. Even though nursing has progressed a long way since the days of task-orientated models of care, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the never-ending to-do list and lose sight of the people beyond the tasks.

Reflecting on your shift can help you identify ways in which your practice has been affected by your workload. A subtle example is the language that you or fellow nurses use. Do you talk about ‘who needs to be fed’ or ‘who’s still to be done’? Are there ways you can reframe these questions in a more dignified or caring way?

Awareness

Reflective practice is not easy. It involves facing up to qualities that you don’t like in yourself, such as frustration or impatience. But the simple fact is that you aren’t perfect, you are merely human. You may have days when you can't see beyond your to-do list. But in time, with the increased awareness that comes from regular reflection, you will be more able to notice and change how you react.


Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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