When I was a student nurse the ward Sister reigned supreme, not just over the nursing staff but with everyone who set foot in her ward. I say “her” because even when I was a student, there were very few males in nursing and the only man I ever knew who had been in charge of a ward was my own dad. In his day, my dad had to train in London with 4 other men because there were very few places that allowed men to train as nurses and certainly not in a group with women – not so much equity of access then; mind you those were also the days when women had to leave nursing and other jobs if they got married.
We have, of course, moved on but the role of the Senior Charge Nurse is fundamentally the same; to ensure the standards of care in their areas and develop and support staff – sounds simple but is done in the context of a very complex and demanding environment
Back in the day student nurses were employed by Health Boards and had a stronger sense of belonging to the organisation. Everyone had a vested interest in you from the very first day you set (a very shaky) foot into your first ward. The ward Sister took a real (and scary!) interest in first year students, working with us and teaching us things we never forgot. Over the years I have adapted much of that teaching as things move on and because there are ways I feel suit me better but there is one thing that never changes and, if I walked into a room now, I would do exactly as I had been taught; here’s why: In my first ward and on my third shift the ward Sister announced that I was going to learn “properly” about bed bathing and that she and I would bed bath “Mary”
Before we even got into the room we had discussed what we would notice immediately and over the course of the process of bathing; I didn’t understand the importance of that at that point. On entering the room, I was expected to introduce myself to Mary and explain I was a student and was learning and that the Sister would involve me in lots of discussion and questions. Mary didn’t look terribly impressed…and then, remembering what Sister had said about noticing, I realised it was cold in the room and that the window was open – that tiny prompt was the start for me about what a bed bath really means. It meant that I asked Mary if she was cold and allowed her to make the decision to close the window and realised that a bed bath wasn’t just about cleanliness and comfort, it is a unique opportunity to make a connection with another human being who is in a vulnerable situation, afraid, maybe in pain or discomfort or worrying, not about their illness but about their family, home, or often, their pets!
It is a fantastic opportunity to assess the physical and emotional state of an individual; by simply coming into a room, talking and listening and laying hands on a person you can assess so many things and offer reassurance and explanation. It is often suggested that nurses have moved in their focus to a more technical role and away from “menial” tasks such as personal hygiene,
I find this an interesting consideration and would offer that in more than 31 years of nursing I have never considered washing another human being as a menial task for the reasons I have just laid out. It is a privileged position we hold and I firmly believe that any nurse who is “too posh to wash” has perhaps lost sight of that unique chance to notice the individual