Keeping the Spark: How to Maintain your Humanism During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Guest Contributor: Erin Dolen, MS, RN, CNE

The country, and the world, is at war. War against the virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 or “COVID-19” (FDA, 2020). As nurses, we must be on the front lines. Our dedication to the community to provide high-quality care should not end despite the complications associated with this pandemic. But how? How can we stay dedicated, humanistic, and compassionate when we are stretched beyond the limits of what we can accomplish? Josephine Paterson and Loretta Zderad have the answer.

Josephine Paterson (left), Loretta Zderad (right)

Paterson and Zderad (2007) first published their Humanistic Nursing Theory in 1975. Their hope was to help nurses understand that nursing is “an experience lived between human beings” (p.14). Through this experience, nurses can bring meaning and understanding to each patient’s life, the patient’s family’s life, and their own life. Paterson and Zderad maintained that this experience is important and effects the existence of all human beings.

So, what would they think about this global pandemic we currently find ourselves in? What does their theory propose that can help us now? These theorists also maintained that through having this shared experience with patients, nurses may hopefully remember why they chose to answer the calling of the nursing profession and stay dedicated to nursing despite the challenges that most certainly lie ahead. They could not be more right. We need this dedication to our profession now more than ever. We need to all remember why we chose to become nurses. What life experiences led us to this profession? What patients have we had during our careers that only further solidified that meaning in our lives? We have all had them. That older gentleman who was living his last moments on earth and grabbed our hands, and simply said “thank you”. That teenager who made a choice and found themselves in a life-changing situation who actually listened to us. I mean, really listened. That mother who lost a child who found solace in our embrace during the most difficult time in her life.

We need to remember these experiences but we also need to make new ones. Remember that each patient is a human being with needs, fears, and desires. Live this experience with them, not around them. Help them see meaning and understanding in their current situation. Help them see that they are not alone, nurses are with them. When you feel the need to rush out of the room, take the extra moment to lay a therapeutic hand on the patient’s shoulder, and simply smile. The smile may be behind your mask, but let it light up your eyes. The humanistic approach to nursing isn’t just for verbal interactions, but non-verbal as well (McCamant, 2006). For the pediatric patient who needed to have an x-ray and was taken from their mother, hold them PPE and all.

The humanistic nursing theory also has a subset of five phenomenological phases of nursing: preparation for coming to know, intuitive knowledge of others, scientific knowledge of others, synthesis of current knowledge to supplement practice and the inner transition from “many to the paradoxical one” (Lelis, Pagliuca, & Cardoso, 2014, p. 1117). As structured as this sounds, when you think about it, all nurses need to prepare to accept new knowledge, utilize their own intuitive knowledge, recall and retain scientific knowledge, apply that knowledge to guide their practice, and become one with their patients and their profession. Regardless of whether they know it or not, every nurse has been practicing the humanistic nursing theory their entire careers. Keep going. Keep accepting new knowledge and new experiences. Keep trusting your intuition and your scientific knowledge. Keep guiding your actions with evidence-informed practice. Keep becoming one with your patients and their families.

During this pandemic, when nurses feel exhausted, powerless, and ill-prepared, these experiences will help get us through. They will bring meaning and understanding to our lives. This meaning and understanding will help us remember that spark that lights our way to humanism. Most importantly, this lived experience with our patients will help us stay dedicated to our vital profession during this pandemic, and during any challenging times that lie ahead, just as Paterson and Zderad had hoped.

References

Lelis, A.L.P.A., Pagliuca, L.M.F., & Cardoso, M.V.L.M.L. (2014). Phases of humanistic theory: Analysis of applicability in research. Text Context Nursing, Florianopolus, 23(4), 1113-1122. https://doi.org/10.1590/0104-07072014002140013

McCamant, K.L. (2006). Humanistic nursing, interpersonal relations theory, and the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Nursing Science Quarterly, 19(4), 334-338. doi: 10.1177/0894318406292823

Paterson, J.G. & Zderad, L.T. (2007). Humanistic nursing [ebook]. Wiley. (Original work published 1975).

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/mcm-issues/coronavirus- disease-2019-covid-19

About Guest Contributor Erin Dolen

E Dolen PictureErin is an Assistant Professor of Practice at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY. She is a doctoral student in the EdD Nursing Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has her MSN with a focus in Nursing Education from Excelsior College. Erin has her national certification as a Certified Nurse Educator. Her nursing background is in emergency medicine. She lives in Delmar, NY with her husband and two children.

 

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