Have you ever gone on a first date that went so well that you ended up spending three or four hours just speaking to this person over some coffee? When you walk away from that interaction, although it’s the first time you met the person, you feel like you know so much about them already. This is analogous to how I spend my days with my patients.
As an ICU nurse, I spend 12 to 13 hours a day with, on average, just two patients. This is so much time that I often know the depths of a patient and family’s social situation as well as the depths of their health and livelihood. Having only two patients per day, I spend about 6 to 7 hours on each patient. There is no other discipline of medicine or health care professional that spends this amount of time with a single patient. This gives me plenty of time to understand the depths of my patient’s needs emotionally, physiologically, socially, and economically.
With that knowledge comes a responsibility for me to play my role as an advocate to speak up for that patient. This might mean speaking out to the providers for a patient without health insurance to receive a prescription of the more affordable version of their blood thinner, or this might mean speaking out to the social workers for a patient who needs resources to assist them in purchasing their home medications. This might also mean recommending a diabetic education consult for a patient who is showing signs of knowledge deficit in managing their disease.
As bedside nurses, we have a lot of responsibility. A large piece of the weight to facilitate a good outcome for our patients lies on us simply because we spend the most time with our patients and are expected to know the most about our patients. Many members of the health care team depend on our assessment of the patient and recommendations to perform their duties. We must not neglect what might be our most essential role that we play: an advocate. This might be the most important role that we play in terms of the patient’s outcome and well-being. We must not forget this role and how vital it is. As bedside nurses, we are ideally positioned to be advocates for our patients. Speak up to the health care team, speak up to the doctors, and speak up to the social workers because often no one else does.