Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A Nurse Mensch Is Something to Be

According to the annual poll by Gallup, nurses are the most trusted professionals in the United States, and those of us who love nurses understand why. We're the backbone of the healthcare system, and we interface with consumers more than any other members of the healthcare team. But when it comes to being the best we can be, the notion of being a "nurse mensch" is one worth exploring.

On Wikipedia, a "mensch" is defined as "a person of integrity and honor". In Yiddish, the term "mensch" basically means "a good person" or "an upstanding individual", as it is defined in several online dictionaries. I've been called a mensch from time to time, so why not be a nurse mensch? And with all of the talk of "murses" (male nurses) these days, I'd rather place the focus on mensches, be they male or female.

My Jewish heritage (and my grandparents' use of Yiddish phrases) leads me to consider how the term mensch can be added to the lexicon of words pertaining to nursing, and to the ways that "menschness" can be something for nurses--whether male or female--to aspire to.

On several websites, it's elucidated that the very early origins of the term "mensch" date as far back as the Age of Enlightenment and the notion of "a better human being". Compassion is one of the properties mentioned in this regard, and it is my thesis that nurses are well-positioned to take their natural (and learned) compassion and apply it towards their achievement of "menschness".

To me, a mensch is a person who consistently does the right thing, looks out for the welfare of others, and is always compassionate, considerate, thoughtful, giving, and determined to be an all-around good person.

Thus, a nurse mensch is a nurse who does the right thing (in the nursing arena, at least), looks out for the welfare of both colleagues and patients, and channels his or her compassion through thoughtful, giving and considerate action.

The nurse mensch takes the time to fluff a pillow, look a patient in the eye, assist a colleague in need of support, and go the extra mile when necessary. The mensch nurse doesn't act out of codependence or a need for approval, but rather out of a deep-seated desire to serve with compassion. The mensch nurse does not hurt him- or herself through self-sacrifice or martyrdrom in order to help others , but has a healthy sense of boundaries, pitching in when he or she is sanely able to do so.

We all know nurses who everyone complains about. These crusty, crispy nurses are toasty around the edges, taking out their misery on everyone else (especially new nurses, nursing students and medical interns). While they may hold valuable nursing knowledge, experience and clinical acumen, they may often choose to not help others for a variety of reasons, among them a mixture of hubris, burnout, and a feeling that others need to suffer for their knowledge, earning it "the hard way" (like they did). These burned out nurses perpetuate negative beliefs and practices that punish newcomers by withholding support.

On the other hand, the nurse mensch recognizes that all nurses deserve support, and that support is offered equally, without bias or judgment. New nurses are welcomed by the nurse mensch, and the nurse mensch leaves colleagues feeling honored and acknowledged in ways that other nurses don't achieve.

When it comes to patients, the nurse mensch provides stellar care, but is also humble enough to ask for help when it's needed. The nurse mensch is not a super nurse, but just a good person striving to be at his or her best, both personally and professionally.

I would hazard a guess that those of us who are mensches in our personal lives are also mensches in our professional lives, and that those who resist or reject the notion of menschness are the nurses who are too cynical or burned out to even focus on the welfare of others.

We need an army of nurse mensches, and we need them in every facet of healthcare. This is a clarion call for nurse mensches everywhere to infiltrate hospitals, clinics, physician offices, boardrooms, management, unions and HMOs. Nurse mensches are needed for their compassion, level-headedness, fairness, kindness, thoughtfulness, and desire to do good. Nurse mensches can support one another, propagate the spread of nurse mensch culture, and work on changing the system from the inside out.

So, if you're a nurse mensch, join the party, continue to be yourself, and help our collective menschness grow. We all need to embrace our menschness, and invite others to embrace it as well.

Nurse mensches of the world, unite!




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