In healthcare, time can often feel like the scarcest resource, a luxury that's hard to come by. Few understand this better than nurses. In my 43 years as an oncology nurse and nurse leader, I've witnessed the profound impact that time, or lack thereof, can have on the nurse-patient relationship. The ability to sit bedside, listen deeply, and understand the fears and concerns of our patients strengthens their trust in us and enhances their care experience. 

It requires special training and skill to help nurses, especially those new to the profession, juggle multiple patients with compassion and attentiveness. Our staff handles complex cases, many of which involve cancer, where rushing is a disservice to the patient, family, and caregiver bravely facing a health crisis.  
The increasing administrative duties and perceived high nurse to patient ratios leave nurses feeling stretched thin, struggling to fulfill these vital aspects of care. It's clear that for the improvement of both patient care and nursing satisfaction, systemic changes are needed to reduce burnout and ensure nurses have the time they need to connect with patients meaningfully.

Staff shortages add to the struggle

As a nurse, you quickly learn the power of simple gestures. When patients are scared, nervous, or feeling alone, we serve as a beacon of calm for them, helping to reduce their blood pressure, steady their pulse, and ease their breathing. I remember countless times when something as small as holding their hand for a few minutes had a profound impact. No one formally teaches these acts as nursing interventions, yet, intuitively, we know their value in not only comforting and calming patients, but also improving outcomes

However, the administrative burdens and staffing issues in healthcare, from turnover to vacancies to retiring experienced nurses, make it increasingly difficult to provide this personal touch and level of care consistently. It’s a nationwide problem, and we're feeling it acutely as nurse leaders. Despite having a team of dedicated nurses, the sheer volume of tasks frontline nurses are required to complete means that finding even five minutes to sit quietly with a patient can be nearly impossible. Even in progressive healthcare settings like California with mandated staffing ratios, there's an ongoing struggle to allocate sufficient time to each patient for these meaningful, yet time-consuming, aspects of our care.

The documentation dilemma

Reflecting on my early days as a nurse, I often had ample time to sit at the patient's bedside. But as my career has navigated through varying roles and levels of care, I've seen how the value of time in nursing has drastically shifted and pressures compounded for the bedside nurse. 

As a military nurse, I remember one patient distinctly, Sergeant Peters – his dying wish was to play golf one last time. As a nurse who also shares a passion for golf, I felt compelled to make his wish come true. We ventured out to the base's golf course, with Sergeant Peters in a wheelchair, and played the last three holes as the sun set. That night, his condition worsened, and by the next day, it was clear he didn't have much time left. On that final day, I was able to spend the majority of my shift beside him, holding his wife’s hand. We arranged for her to lie beside him on a stretcher tied to his bed until he passed away later that evening.

Back then, I had more patients, but they weren't nearly as critically ill as they are today, affording me the precious time to fulfill such a unique and personal request. The patients under our care now present with much more severe health challenges, and we’re finding ourselves immersed in more complex nursing tasks than ever before. Administering chemotherapy, caring for patients on clinical trials, and navigating the endless sea of documentation consumes a large portion of our day, leaving us with little time to sit and provide the compassionate care and emotional support our patients so desperately need.

Giving time back to nurses

As stated earlier, a simple gesture can make all the difference to a patient and/or family member, and I take such pride in seeing staff provide a comforting smile, a gentle touch, or story shared. These “Moments that Matter” comprise the building blocks of a patient’s experience and can inspire and drive nursing excellence. Walking through our hospital halls, I see nurses crafting these moments despite the constraints, finding ways to make time for their patients. The question is: how can we support and empower our nursing staff to continue making these meaningful connections in a system that's becoming more overstretched by the day?

In our quest to give time back, we’re exploring every possible solution, including leveraging technology to alleviate some of the administrative burdens we face. While much of our paperwork involves ticking boxes on a checklist, it remains a time-intensive task. By streamlining documentation, enhancing the communication of patient information, and automating repetitive tasks, technology has the power to restore precious moments once lost to the administrative shuffle. Every minute saved is a minute more at a patient's bedside, potentially making a world of difference in their care experience.

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