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Barry Quinn discusses the value of the patient - nurse relationship

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VOL: 98, ISSUE: 16, PAGE NO: 35

Barry Quinn, clinical nurse specialist, University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, London

I have worked in cancer care for more than 16 years. Last year I completed a study exploring nurses' experiences of supporting cancer patients in their search for meaning at the end of their lives.

I have worked in cancer care for more than 16 years. Last year I completed a study exploring nurses' experiences of supporting cancer patients in their search for meaning at the end of their lives.

After listening to many hours of profoundly moving experiences, I was left with a real sense of the value of nursing and an even greater belief that much of what we do as nurses cannot be easily measured. For instance, how many other health care professionals know what it is like to sit at 3am with a patient who is afraid to switch off the light and close their eyes in case they never open them again? Try carrying out a benchmarking exercise on that experience.

Although all the nurses I spoke to were able to describe the skills they used in their work, they all believed that their real value lay in their ability to care. And how do you begin to measure the value of a nurse who takes time to listen to a worried patient's concerns?

As nurses we have a duty to continue to improve and standardise our practice with tools such as clinical governance. But surely we also have an obligation to insist that not everything we do can be measured.

Recently I overheard a group of newly qualified nurses talking about their guilt at not always being able to do their best for patients. But it is not only new nurses who carry this guilt. As a profession we often expect too much of ourselves and may undervalue the good we do. We also fail to support each other. Is it possible that nursing is actually damaging to nurses?

If we are going to improve patient care, we need to improve the way we care for each other. We need to stop telling our colleagues that they are worthwhile and start showing them how much we value them.

While they may decline formal offers of support, sometimes a kind word, a hug or a cup of tea can make all the difference (see p36).

It seems to me that every step a nurse takes up the career ladder takes him or her further away from the patient's bedside - but surely this is where nurses are supposed to be.

Perhaps the greatest support we can offer to each other is our shared experience, but the current situation means that the more experienced nurses end up working in an office or academic institution.

So can we measure our care? Sometimes. But can we support each other? Always.

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