This I Believe about the Ripple Effect of Caring
A nursing student recently sent me a thank you note which stated: “The ripple effect of your kindness, heartfelt compassion, and warmth are in more places than you realize.” I was touched by her sentiment, and hoped that it contained a small amount of truth. Throughout my life, I have experienced the ripple effect of caring and it has had a profound impact on who I am as a person, a nurse, and an educator. When I became a nurse over 30 years ago, it was not with a vision of nursing as a caring profession. The real life images of nursing that I had seen in my role as a candy striper had distressed and saddened me. I entered the profession hoping that my own power of caring could make a difference in people’s lives.
My colleagues in education have said of me, “You are too caring!” as if this characteristic excludes academic excellence. Yet I believe that caring has the power to foster academic excellence as well as more empathic nurses. Much of nursing education is currently shame-based and hierarchical. Students are labeled as good or bad, smart or stupid, motivated or lazy. There exists an attitude that, in order to care for people, you have to be “tough” physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That same toughness sets up barriers between people that can lead to stigma, paternalism, and poor nursing care outcomes. Educators spend more time helping to toughen students, than giving them the skills to honor their own sensitivity and develop self-caring so that they don’t experience burnout and compassion fatigue. The result is a nation-wide nursing shortage and a record number of disillusioned graduates leaving the profession. Caring brings with it the power of courage, determination, and respect for all human beings, including the self. It has the power to motivate students to excellence as students and as human beings.
During my undergraduate and graduate programs, I had faculty who cared about me as an individual as well as a professional. It is this image of caring that I carry into my own career. The professor who taught my educational methods course would not allow any negative feedback in the class. He believed that attention to the negative reinforced the negative. Moreover, most of the students, by that point, has mastered the art of being self-critical. He encouraged us to focus on and reinforce the positive. That led to a safe classroom environment where students flourished in the caring and support of their peers.
I believe that the ripple effect of caring spreads out in ever widening circles, and that each act of caring intensifies and broadens those ripples. Those who have been my exemplars of caring continue to act in my life. I spread their legacy, as I am guided and supported by the caring acts of others. I believe that the ripple effect of caring has the power to transform not only the nursing profession, but our communities and our world.
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