On episode 330 of The Nurse Keith Show nursing and healthcare career podcast, Keith discusses the metaphor of the nurse warrior. While nurses may often be characterized as heroes and angels, the image of the warrior may be closer to the truth of who nurses truly are and how they move in the world. Nurses can serve as fierce warriors for justice, equity, and compassionate care. Are you a nurse warrior fighting the good fight?

Nurse warriors mentioned on this episode: 

This episode is based on a blog post published on my blog, Digital Doorway, on July 5th, 2021. The following is an excerpt:

Nurses, the hard-working lifeblood and connective tissue of the healthcare system, can often feel as if they are doing battle with elemental forces far beyond their control in their efforts to provide optimal patient care and fulfill their personal and professional mission.

While nursing can often feel absolutely quixotic or Sisyphean in nature, nurses battle on. Whether it’s the Covid-19 pandemic, a natural disaster, the opioid epidemic, a mass shooting, or the challenges faced by the homeless, nurses the world over continue to fight the good fight no matter the odds. It is here that the archetype of the Nurse Warrior emerges.

The archetype of the warrior can be found throughout many cultures and eras. Carl Jung apparently associated the archetype of the Warrior with that of the Hero; in terms of nurses, this would make sense based on the hero moniker often bestowed upon us by the media and the public in times of crises (e.g.: nurses’ individual and collective efforts during the Covid pandemic). While many nurses chafe at being called angels or heroes due to the fact that it can make us seem somehow invincible and not altogether human — rather than the fallible human beings we actually are — the widespread use of such terms in relation to our profession are inarguably intrinsic to the culture and difficult to dismiss out of hand.

It’s been said that the warrior is often seen as an individual who stands up for the trampled rights of others, at times putting their own lives on the line in the process. The coronavirus demonstrated how nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals put themselves in harm’s way, and too many did indeed pay the ultimate price in the process, some via Covid infection and others through the utter tragedy of suicide.

Nurse warriors are legion, and this is the archetype I personally prefer over that of hero, angel, or other names that attempt to elevate us above other mere mortals. We nurses are not inured to suffering; we’re like everyone else, and we of course suffer in our own ways, individually and collectively. As mentioned above, dehumanizing nurses by labeling them as heroes can put them on a pedestal and cause the public and media to fail to recognize our own fragile nature. Sure, nurses can put their game face on and rush headlong into the fray like firefighters marching into a scorching and dangerous blaze, but we can also break down, cry, suffer burnout, feel the pain of compassion fatigue, and wonder aloud or to ourselves if we can still get up and do it again tomorrow.

Heroism is often misconstrued in our culture, and action movies and other mainstream depictions of heroism can drown out the struggles and challenges of the smaller, more intimate moments that make us human. Nurses are not “angels in scrubs”, nor are we action heroes necessarily destined for greatness and a ticker-tape parade after we save the day.

Nurses suffer an inordinate amount of workplace violence: we are spit on, punched, denigrated, slapped, and experience all manner of insults and injuries at the hands of both patients and and their families. We also endure the slings and arrows to which we’re exposed when our own nursing brethren bully, intimidate, and harass us, not to mention such egregious behavior by physicians and other colleagues.

To those who call us heroes, I suggest that warrior be adopted as the more apt term for nurses the world over. Nurses trudge to work through floods and disasters; administer care in literal war zones and make house calls in urban war zones; slog out 12-hour shifts in overflowing emergency departments; welcome newborns into the world; care for our society’s children in PICUs and school-based clinics; and serve as heartfelt and compassionate witness as both young and old take their final breath.

If some of these acts seem heroic or angelic, so be it; yet nurses’ true strength lies in our ability to use our will, clinical acumen, compassion, and spiritual strength to minister to those in need of our succor. These are the actions of heartfelt warriors who build a bridge between the art and science of nursing with a very human form of grace.

The Nurse Keith Show is a proud member of The Health Podcast Network, one of the largest and fastest-growing collections of authoritative, high-quality podcasts taking on the tough topics in health and care with empathy, expertise, and a commitment to excellence.

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Nurse KeithIn case you didn’t already know, Nurse Keith is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, keynote and motivational speaker, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram—as well as at NurseKeith.com.
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