What a Nurse Really Wants

Lois Corcoran, BSN, PCCN, is pursuing a master of science in nursing degree and works on a cardiac step-down unit. Although Nurses Week recently ended, we felt that this short, honest post sums up the way a lot of nurses seem to feel.

via flickr creative commons/by you me

via flickr creative commons/by you me

I have been a nurse for 18 years. I went to nursing school when I was 33 years old, a year after I’d completed treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. I was a single mom, newly divorced, trying to make my way.

Becoming a nurse felt like my calling. I was passionate about it. I had been through so much, and I knew I had a lot to give back—I wanted to be with patients, holding their hands, giving them the reassurance we so desperately want to hear when we are going through ill health. I knew that I could be that nurse. I felt that my cancer had been the portal to this realization, opening my eyes and heart to what patients need.

Eighteen years later the truth of my life as a nurse is a little more complicated. It’s not that my original soul’s calling isn’t still there, deep inside me. I still feel a close connection with my patients. I still take the time to be present with them, hold their hand, look into their eyes, and speak to them in a calm, respectful way that lets them know I am here.

But today, this is done at a higher price. It costs the hospital more money because I often have to forgo my lunch break and stay later at night to finish up the required aspects of nursing such as charting. This is okay with me, though I am paying a higher price as well as I watch my body break down, my joints and muscles aching.

For me, however, this is not about Medicare reimbursement, or length of stay, or outliers. If this were what’s motivating me, then who would really be caring for the patients? They’d be left without an advocate. Each shift starts with a silent prayer for the strength and the patience I need to care for my patients. Each shift ends with a silent prayer thanking God that I have made it through a shift and made my best effort. My patients get more of me than anyone else.

So, for Nurses Week, the only week out of 52 others in which nurses get to be acknowledged, I don’t want a cookie, an ice cream cone (I do love ice cream), a towel, an umbrella, a four-dollar coupon to use in the cafeteria. I don’t want a poster, or a sign or a visit from nursing administration.

I just want what I need to care for my patients.

  • I want ancillary help that can help my patient when I can’t get to them immediately.
  • I want working equipment, rolling computers that don’t cause cervical spine spasms as I attempt to push them down the hallway.
  • I want my managers and supervisors to know how hard I am working to take care of my patients, whose illness and hospitalization is making the hospital money.
  • I want sincerity, authenticity, empathy, and support. Yes, I do know my job includes updating my boards and signing my hourly rounding sheets. I am dancing as fast as I can to meet expectations! I want to do it all perfectly.

This year, Nurses Week is bittersweet for me. I am struggling more now than ever. I am not interested in the fanfare as the hospital is celebrating me—at events that, often, I can’t attend anyway because I can’t get off the unit. I just want some support. I just want to take care of my patients, and maybe get a lunch break on any given day. I just want to be heard.

No, I don’t want any gifts. I just want to take care of my patients.

Editor’s note: This is one of the three 2016 posts on this blog that helped AJN Off the Charts win a 2017 American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (ASHPE) Gold Award for Best Blog.

2017-08-04T09:53:14+00:00 May 19th, 2016|career, Nursing, nursing perspective, Patients|9 Comments

About the Author:


  1. Mary Jane Cahill May 21, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    vacations help

  2. Eileen Rogers RN MSN May 21, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Celebrating Lois! You have excellent writing skills that enable to you communicate your brilliance and work ethic to your reader, I also never wanted a “token” gift from administration for Nurses’ Week. That “token magnet” truly did not reflect any respect for me; a 1.0 FTE to administration. I once threatened to exit the bldg if I did not get adequate staffing for the shift. Agreeing to such a poor ratio of one RN to a full unit is indeed a “contract.” So if I make an error with serious consequences, then it jeopardizes my RN liscence.The DON said she respected me when she heard it. But that was not meant for my ears.

    I am on permanent disability due to congenital varicosities. Nursing definitely caused more damage; the valves in one leg’s deep vein are totally incompetent.

    All the best with the NP route. It is the way to go!

  3. Linda Faber May 21, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Watching from retirement, I see 8 people hired to do what four of us did! I am disappointed that I did not fight harder for those things just mentioned above. Bullying does go on in the adult world. I am proud of my diverse RN career of 45 years.

  4. Barb Mcmullin May 20, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    An American nightingale ????

  5. Paula J Webb RN BSN May 20, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I could have written Lois’ story myself! I can relate to every word, and now I am studying for my Masters in Nursing Education online, just because I couldn’t leave nursing behind. My broken down body, knees, hips, ankles wont stomp the halls any more, but my mind and my passion is still fiercely advocating for other nurses and patients. I too, will pass on the coupon for a latte, or fleece blanket with hospital logo. Acknowledgement, support, a listening ear, materials and equipment to make our jobs for patients more friendly and timely. I even said the same prayer, beginning and end of shift. Someone to have my back, where my patients are concerned, besides co-workers who are already swamped with their own duties, but are the first on the scene when someone is needed. How about DNS who comes out from behind her desk, has on scrubs, comes up to see what is going on, and lends a hand.

  6. Martha May 20, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Very well stated. I’m seriously considering retirement because it is such a struggle to give patients what they need-even in the clinic setting.

  7. B.Marville RN May 20, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    When nurses organize and stand up for their patients by standing up for themselves, get politically involved to move safe staffing legislation and empower agencies like Fed-OSHA to put real penalties on employers who refuse to buy safe patient handling equipment, adequate security, and protection from toxic environments, then nursing will improve.

    Inability to eat, drink, take a break and use the bathroom for over twelve to fourteen hours as a time is not only inhuman, but causes nurses to make errors- remember Maslow? Nurses are human and years of unsafe lifting, pulling, assaults and hours of neglect of human bodily needs take their toll.

    The new trend is to target older nurses who have the nerve to be at the top of the inadequate pay and benefits scale(and may need to use healthcare services more). Charts are examined to find the smallest deviance from policy, complaints are elicited from coworkers and patients, and clocking out late to make sure care is done right and documented thoroughly is met with harassment and discipline.

    The approaching end of many stellar nurse careers is now fraught with targeting, harassment, extreme scrutiny and discipline toward termination.

    A lot of experienced nurses are being lost to practice. Now is the time to get together and make changes. Organize, organize, organize!

  8. Les May 20, 2016 at 11:57 am

    I’m now retired from nursing after 35 years, and am finding I no longer trust or believe in the health care system and it is terrifying on all levels. Having a very diversified career in several fields…I’m afraid to say I’ve sacrificed my health my heart and my life….for an unappreciative health care system.

    Where accountability should be placed…it most always falls on the nurses at some point….statistical information…transfer of functions….what about taking something away….or making the appropriate parties more accountable.

    I’m cross trained in ALL ward functions from clerical to hazmat clean up of chemical spills…to firefighter safety in removal of pts safely…saving your life when there is NO DR in house…I am grateful I no longer nurse…but just because I don’t….does not mean the PTSD and vicarious trauma do not haunt me EVERYDAY….and YET AGAIN the health care system is failing..

    The intention is not to make new grads feel bullied the intent is to show you how ill prepared your education has left you and that you should again put accountability where it belongs. GO ADVOCATE for a change in your nursing programs to better prepare you and support you in the first year of your careers…then pay it forward by speaking up standing up pulling up….the nurses who are drowning trying to keep you your loved ones and health care alive and, to.make nursing something that is more fulfilling and less personally destructive on the people who genuinely care to much your future colleagues…( if you don’t believe us oldies have been trying go revisit your nursing history courses and please move past DEAR FLORENCE to the present and the future of nurse…u cant understand or ask…. what you don’t know)

  9. Lois Roelofs May 20, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Spoken well. As a retiree, I could have written these reflections in the early ’70s as a staff nurse. That makes me sad.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.