About Hui-wen Sato, MSN, MPH, RN, CCRN

Hui-Wen (Alina) Sato, MSN, MPH, RN, CCRN, is a pediatric intensive care nurse in Southern California and blogs at http://heartofnursing.blog.

Tallying Losses and Gains of Being a Nurse, and Finding Profit

I was talking with a dear friend who was telling me how she went through a period when she had wondered whether nursing was destroying her. I can’t say what she actually meant by this for her own self, but the comment stood out to me. I found myself chewing on this notion that we can feel slowly worn down by the overall experience of nursing to a point where we feel the losses are not being offset by the gains quickly enough.

A certain loss of innocence.

Given all of the random tragedy, self-sabotage, and violence that nurses may witness in their patients’ stories, nurses can experience the loss of a more innocent, optimistic perspective about people and the world. Nurses often say there are things you cannot “un-see” in this line of work. Those experiences can darken the lens through which we see the world. The loss of faith in the assured wellness in the world can feel disheartening. It can be difficult to know how to process this in a way that does not simply leave us more fearful or cynical people.

The energy drain.

On a less philosophical level, it is no […]

Integrating Strong Emotions as a Developing Nurse

Most people, I would venture to say, start off in their profession with a fair degree of idealism, and this certainly holds true for nurses. When I talk with nursing students or new grad nurses and ask their story about why they chose nursing, the most common response runs along the lines of wanting to help others in meaningful ways.

Preparing new nurse grads for nursing realities.

In fact, I will meet with such a group of students this afternoon as I speak on a panel in the ethics class at my nursing alma mater. I, and other colleagues on this panel, want to encourage and inspire. But we will also be telling the students about the challenges we have encountered in situations involving moral distress, ethical dilemmas, and personal burnout. We will present situations when we felt that what we were doing at the bedside was not meaningful because we were only prolonging suffering—or, in other cases, so full of emotion and significance that it felt overwhelming to process.

We want to present the reality of nursing to these students, not to shatter their idealism, but to push them towards meaningful self-awareness from the start of their nursing career so that they are not caught off-guard by the degree to which they will be challenged […]

2018-01-18T10:04:09+00:00 December 8th, 2017|Nursing|2 Comments

Learning New Skills of Supporting One Another as Nurses

I have had a couple of recent conversations with nurse coworkers who have been close witnesses to patient deaths that were particularly difficult. They told me how challenging it was to process the experiences with fellow nurses—even those whom they considered as good friends—in the hours and days immediately following the patient deaths.

Some conversations in the break room or in carpool rides would go into the medical details surrounding the deaths, but stayed away from discussing personal emotions beyond general statements such as “It was just really sad.”

Other conversations, they told me, were comprised of awkward silence—as opposed to a more intentional therapeutic silence, a deep listening. In both scenarios, my coworkers said they’d felt a lack of quality and depth in these encounters. While they hoped for an opportunity to talk with colleagues, who would surely understand the experience and details better than anyone else, ultimately they felt that they were left to sort out their thoughts and feelings alone.

Even in a unit where we constantly express gratitude for a strong sense of teamwork, my colleagues and I still struggle to help each other through the deeper experiences of grief and trauma.

A missed opportunity?

And at times when I’m in the charge nurse role and staff members are responsible for end-of-life care, I struggle […]

2018-01-18T10:02:53+00:00 October 20th, 2017|Nursing|1 Comment

When Brokenness Transforms Nursing

photo by Karen Roush/all rights reserved

I’ve had opportunities to sit in peer interview panels for new grad nurses looking to start their career in our unit, an experience which prompted me to consider what it takes to be a good nurse.

The obvious qualities were, well, obvious: critical thinking skills, strong communication, compassion, teachable, team player. But I’ve had a sense for a while that we nurses have been missing something when we consider what it takes to be a good nurse. While this something is strongly tied to empathy, it’s still a bit different. I tend to think of it as the nurse’s recognition and embrace of his/her own brokenness, even as the nurse looks to take care of others who are in some manner broken.

By brokenness, if the term is unfamiliar, I simply mean the awareness that we all know what it is to suffer, to struggle, to feel lost or wounded or weak. So in speaking of brokenness, I don’t mean it as a condescending lens through which we view everyone as objects to be fixed. I use the term brokenness to acknowledge the humbling reality that every person will crack a bit under enough pressure; every person who has been tossed around enough by difficult circumstances will know some […]

The Inner Stretch of Nursing

There is a level of discomfort nurses are pushed to that goes beyond tight staffing, busy 12-hour shifts, and mental tracking of our patient’s disease process. It is the inner stretch of our emotional, relational, and spiritual muscles. We are pushed to wrestle with questions and issues beyond what we find comfortable, and then we must learn to live with a certain unresolved level of discomfort. We can’t go back to a perhaps safe naïveté about life as we knew it before we saw how indiscriminate some forms of suffering and death could be. Our own theological wonderings come to light, and our capacity for vulnerability and intimacy is tested when certain patients find a way past the self-protective walls we put up. Sometimes, all the big questions of life loom over us in the course of one 12-hour shift.

We are stretched in how we think about quality of life.

My everyday thoughts about quality of life usually revolve around the quality of my relationships, how much free time I had to enjoy my hobbies, what delicious food or special coffee treat I might enjoy today, how much traffic I encountered, and whether my kids seem to have everything they need. I’ve had my share of personal trials and tribulation, but overall I live a life of abundance, […]

2018-01-18T10:06:13+00:00 July 14th, 2017|Nursing|4 Comments