The Emotional Toll of Nursing

Nursing is my profession, a calling I stumbled upon, but unquestionably one I was destined for. Nurses go to work with the sole purpose to make things better for their patients. Our goal is to provide quality care…every day we strive for good outcomes, and then we wake up and strive for better ones.  The healthcare profession is undoubtedly hard. We all talk about the physical toll it takes on our bodies. We all talk about the impact is has on our health. But only healthcare providers know what’s it’s really like to care for a patient. There is an emotional toll we don’t often mention that impacts every single one of us.

It’s the love for our patients and for the nursing process that brings us back to work each day. I can’t count how many tears I’ve shed in my bathtub after a bad shift at work, or how many minutes I’ve spent praying after an especially hard day. I know I’m not alone.  Sometimes the outcomes are completely out of our control. Although our encounters with our patients are brief, we form a bond with the people we care for. And even when we’re granted with every good health outcome possible, sometimes it’s the circumstances that surround the patient that leave our hearts heavy and our hands bound. We often provide care for patients who we know are abused in some way at home. When abuse is suspected in an adult, you can order all the social service consults in the world—they have to want and be in a place where they’re able to accept help. Nurses face a never ending internal struggle…are we doing the right thing? Will we make things worse? Are we offering all the services available? Will anything really change? In the end, the patient will be inevitably discharged and our questions will always go unanswered. No one warned me in nursing school about these endless unanswered questions. No one told me that the silence created after each question would create a deafening gap.

There have been a few times in my career where I have intentionally asked a patient to repeat my name, my full name.  And without having to speak any other words, I knew they understood what I was unable to say outloud. I felt a level of comfort leaving their room, knowing they had my information just in case they really needed it later. I knew when I looked them in the eyes, even though the words were unspoken, they knew they could always reach out to me and I would help them in any way I could. Of course, I’ve never been put in this position. What people don’t realize is that each patient ever cared for leaves an impact on their nurse, some more so than others. Even to this day, long after discharge, I still think about some patients. I pray that their circumstances are different, and I wonder if they remember me the way that I remember them.

When I close my eyes, the faces and room numbers of different patients with different outcomes and different circumstances flash through my mind. My hope that things are better for them is so overwhelming, my hands tremble and I have to bite my lip and blink back tears. My heart pounds a little harder wondering where they are now, wondering if things are better, wondering if they got any help that was needed. But my questions are only answered with silence that I was so unprepared for.  This is the emotional toll of nursing.

Until my next delivery ❤


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