Recognizing the humanity of nurses

June 2023

“My name is Kayeleigh. I have worked as a Registered Nurse in Northwestern Ontario for over 13 years now with a background in surgical and renal. Throughout my career I have seen the landscape of nursing change drastically. I have witnessed the pitfalls and heartaches of the healthcare system navigating the pandemic. I’ve cried with patients and coworkers alike while we tried to understand it all. Difficult moments like this in my life have always coexisted with creating art.

Art gives me the ability to survive hardships like these. Art is my practice that keeps my spirit steady so I can continue to show up as the best helper I can be. I think I make art because I am such an introvert; words are at times hard for me. Colours and shapes feel to come more naturally and in some ways allow me to express things to others I may not let out otherwise.”

When we think of nurses, characteristics that often come to our minds are caring, trustworthy, empathetic, and compassionate. We often recall our personal experiences we had with them as a patient, family member, or colleague. We picture nurses wearing scrubs and masks, hovering over bedsides of sick patients, soothing a crying infant, or coaching a new mother while she gives birth to a new baby. The last several years demonstrated the commitment and resilience nurses brought to the people they cared for, while navigating the ever-changing environments of the health care system. We heard nurses described as heroes as they demonstrated noble acts of courage while continuing to tend to sick patients, despite the risk of getting ill themselves. Although it may bring a smile to our faces to compare nurses to our favourite superhero, the downfall is that it can unintentionally strip away the core of being human. I know first hand that nurses also felt scared, helpless, and confused while caring for their patients and families throughout the pandemic and beyond.

As a nurse and part time educator, I wanted to illustrate the humanity of nurses beyond the scrubs and masks we often identify them with. I thought it was important to see nurses as real people with unique talents just like the patients and families they care for. Many are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, artists, songwriters, and advocates. They are members of communities, both social and cultural. The next time you are in contact with a nurse think about what energizes them; better yet ask them yourself.

I have had the privilege of meeting nurses in Thunder Bay and across Canada who shared photos and stories of who they were outside of the context of their work environments. Many shared photographs of themselves dancing at their local Pow Wow, the colourful regalia representing the traditions of their community, white water kayaking on the Ottawa River, teaching a yoga class to a group of seniors at a local gym, completing a cycle race, arms stretched high as they pass the finish line, and fishing along the many lakes of Northern Ontario. These photo stories bring to light the “humanness” of nurses. The humanity is often interwoven with the care and compassion nurses bring forth to their patients. To see more photo stories visit Instagram @canadiannurse.photostory

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