Happy Nurses' Week!

The following are remarks given by Cheryl Kane, RN from BHCHP at the Nursing Convocation Connell School of Nursing at Boston College May 17th 2009. We feel her inspiring words about being a nurse still ring true today.

Nursing Convocation Connell School of Nursing at Boston College

May 17th 2009

Good Afternoon to each of you.

I would like to acknowledge My dear friend Fr. William Neenan, Dean Cutberto Garza, Dean Susan Gennaro, Associate Dean Catherine Read, Assistant Professor Danny Willis, the Student Class Officers, the committed faculty and staff of the Connell School of Nursing, all of your parents, spouses, family and friends who have come to join in this special day and, to each of you graduates…. You’ve made it!

I share your excitement today and am delighted to welcome you into this remarkable profession of nursing. What a great day…congratulations! Thank you for the privilege of being here with you today! I am so grateful for my Boston College education and the role that it has played in my life; to be able to give back in some small way is very important. This week several people asked me the “title” of my talk and I kept saying I don’t have a title. I just love being a nurse and I had pages and pages of things I wanted to share with you. It was SO hard to decide. As always when preparing a talk, I light my candle and place my very special Franciscan cross in front of it and ask for guidance!

The themes I hope to speak about today are certainly not new but are definitely foundational as we all continue to grow in our nursing practices. Please know it is with great humility that I offer some words today. Four years ago you started out with a dream that you would be come a registered nurse…a dream of caring for others …a dream of making a difference in the lives of others. You chose Boston College to lay the foundation for your dream. During these past four years your education at BC has:

  1. Developed your mind and intellect and taught you the skills needed for excellent nursing practice
  2. Strengthened your stamina and character: there have been times that you had to make choices on order to remain faithful to your dream: when your friends were going out, you were preparing care plans
  3. Prepared your heart for the new and meaningful ways that you will interact with people everyday
  4. Most importantly, your education has deepened your faith and broadened your spirituality so you can trust God, know God’s love and compassion and share that love and compassion at times when you feel excited as well as the times when you feel powerless.

You have been prepared to become men and women for others. Nursing is a profession that gets into your blood. It becomes a part of who you are…your identity. Before long, you will always be thinking like a nurse!

I would like to share with you how and why I became a nurse: I had been an educator for 23 years. I taught grades 1 and all the way through College. I also taught adult education in homeless shelters. In 1992 I was working in one of the shelters in downtown Boston. I was teaching adult education classes for people experiencing homelessness. From a distance, I was watching the doctors and nurses of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program care for their patients. I was so impressed with the compassion and dignity the clinicians delivered, as well as the rapport that was evident between the patients and their caretakers that, at age 42, I decided to go back to nursing school. It was the best decision for me.

What had taken me SO long? I am so impressed that you figured this out at such an early age!

During this past year, we have all witnessed the tough financial crisis. It has taken its toll in so many ways. There has been a lot of downsizing and many layoffs. The result is that you are entering nursing at a time when staff resources are limited, the workload is heavy and there is the pressure of so much to accomplish.

The great challenge that lies before us how to treat each patient with the eyes of compassion. While it is critical to be adept with nursing skills; the real heart of nursing lies in being a hope and a presence for those who are in a very vulnerable and powerless place in their lives. It is always amazing to me that as nurses we are allowed into the very intimate parts of people’s lives. It is a privilege and it is sacred! As you enter into your first nursing position, you will start out with expectations and as you move forward there will be days when you find yourself questioning ….what am I doing? Do not ignore the questions as they provide the opportunity to inner growth and wisdom and most importantly, compassion!

I continue to learn each day that true healing begins when each patient encounter is rooted in compassion. Compassion is foundational in our nursing practice. But the gift of compassion comes with a price and that price is suffering and pain. Compassion comes when we reflect on our own life experiences… the events in our own lives. Compassion comes when we are honest about our own vulnerabilities and brokenness. Being aware of our feeling helps us to understand and feel the pain and needs of another. For nurses, what could be more passionate than the human story?

Nursing is motivated by a deep desire to care for others when they are most vulnerable. This desire is something you know you just have to do. It is a fire in your belly! It is passion! The only way to satisfy a passion is to pursue it. To me, the passion for nursing is rooted in the belief of human connection.

As was mentioned earlier, when I graduated from nursing school, I began working with Boston Health Care the Homeless Program. The mission is simple but very compelling. We provide health care for homeless individuals and families in the greater Boston area. For 10 years now I have worked on our Street Team, providing primary care to homeless men and women who for whatever reason will not come into shelter. They live in alleyways, under bridges and beside grates that keep them warm. Many of our patients struggle with untreated mental illness and it is often accompanied with the torture of substance abuse. They have very complicated and chronic medical conditions. Our street dwellers live lonely and isolated lives. They have burned most of their human bridges with family and friends. Many have been victims of violence. They have been deeply hurt, and their capacity to trust is very limited. We have found that in order to provide health care it is necessary to develop a strong relationship of trust. There is nothing more sacred than when a patient trusts us enough to tell us their real name and their story because it is then that we can begin to provide the medical care that it needed. As we all know from years of being in relationships: when someone trusts us enough to share their fears and their struggles, we see them with different eyes. We all have the same hopes and dreams. The same fears…the desire to love and be loved and the desire to belong. I have learned that the homeless individuals I care for are no different than me. It is the human story and the connection that makes this type of nursing a passion for me.

Recently, I watched the movie called Florence Nightingale. I would encourage you to watch it. I found it very inspiring and its message was very current. Florence’s passion allowed her to become her best self. She used the gifts and talents given to her by God in service of others.

Here at BC you have been give the tools to strengthen your God-given talents

The tools:

  • to think critically 
  • To live with honesty and integrity 
  • To treat others with compassion and dignity and,
  • tools to live with a passion and zest for life.

Florence Nightingale used these exact tools to shape the practice of nursing in the mid 1800’s. I was also struck by Florence Nightingale’s bravery in being a strong advocate for her patients. When we are passionate, we are willing to stand up for what we believe and know is right. As nurses we are the best advocates for our patients. Who knows them like we do? Our keen assessment skills and our strong listening skills help us to know when we need to speak on behalf of our patient. This is not an easy task. It takes bravery and courage. As nurses we all know that hope that gives our patients the courage to fight. Hope is bolstered when our patients know that we believe in them, that we will fight for them and that we care for them.

At Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program it is critical that our patients live with hope. It is amazing the hopefulness that is manifested by our clinicians –“ if you fall down we will pick you up and if you fall down again, we will pick you up again.” This hope is alive because none of knows when someone will get the strength to make new choices for their lives. Lastly, our patients provide us with the experience to become excellent nurses by offering us opportunities to grow in compassion and patience; moments to strengthen our confidence when we need to speak for what is right; the desire to keep on learning and broadening our education.

As I speak with you today, I would like to share with you a story that shaped my nursing practice. For those of you who have heard this story, I apologize.

Jack was a man in his 60’s. He lived between two jersey barriers on Atlantic Ave in downtown Boston. Today the stereotype of a homeless person has changed, as services have become more numerable. However, Jack fit every type of stereotype you could imagine. He had long white hair, a beard, nails that were long and dirty. Jack was as feisty as the day is long. Hygiene was not his forte and he was often very odiferous! He would never come into care. One fall day while taking a nap on the wall of the aquarium, one of Jack’s buddies pushed him into Boston Harbor. He came pretty close to death. He was in the hospital for quite a while. I got a call one Sunday morning and was told that Jack had left the hospital against medical advice and could I please find him. He was wearing only a Johnny and a vest. It was in October and it was a very cool day. I went down to the jersey barriers and sure enough I found Jack. I had him sit against the wall while I ran home to get him some clothes.

When I returned with the clothes, he noticed the down jacket I brought. It was canary yellow.

He said “oh my gosh, where did you get that…everyone will see me.” I told him, it was my husband’s jacket.

Jack said, “Oh, what he doesn’t want it anymore? I told Jack that my husband had died and that he would be very happy for him to have it.

Jack said, “Oh honey I am SO sorry..go into that Dunkin Donuts,buy yourself a cup of coffee and put it on my tab. Come out and tell me all about your husband.”

I bought the coffee (I paid for it), I came out and sat on a milk crate. He took my two hands and said “now tell me about your husband.”

Later that day as I reflected on our conversation, I was so moved by the generosity of spirit and compassion that this man had showed to me.

What Jack didn’t realize was that it was my wedding anniversary and that is always a hard time. But even more importantly, what Jack did was shape my nursing practice. It would have been very easy to look at Jack and just walk past him but if I had, I would have missed the gift he offered to me that day. He taught me how very important it is to take time to look beyond the outer skin and to look deeper. If we look deeper with eyes of compassion, we will always find the face of God! You are at the beginning of a new chapter in your life…set your goals high …move your career and nursing practice forward.

You are the leaders of the next generation of nursing! We welcome you…your energy, your creativity and your commitment to a passion for nursing! Congratulations!

In closing, I would like to share a quote from the late Tim Russert. Last year, one month before his death, Mr. Russert was the guest speaker at an event for Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. I was fortunate to have met Mr. Russert. As his son Luke was starting school at Boston College, Tim reminded Luke that the best 15 words he ever heard were given in a commencement speech: “The best exercise of the human heart is reaching down and picking someone else up….”

Thank You and congratulations!

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