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The role of nurses in the humanisation of medicine

25 May 2024

Nursing, being one of the oldest and most respected professions in the healthcare sector, is the backbone of medical systems around the world. The profession combines deep medical knowledge with extraordinary empathy, care and dedication to the wellbeing of patients. Nurses and nurse practitioners work on the front line of healthcare, offering support, relief and comfort to patients in settings ranging from hospitals and clinics to home and community care.

The origins of nursing can be traced to the activities of nuns and monks in the Middle Ages who cared for the sick and needy. Over time, the profession has undergone a significant evolution, becoming a professional field based on a solid scientific and research foundation. The figure of Florence Nightingale, considered the mother of modern nursing, revolutionised the care of the sick by introducing new standards of hygiene, education and patient care, which had a huge impact on reducing mortality in hospitals.

To become a nurse or nurse practitioner, candidates must complete accredited educational programmes that offer both theoretical knowledge in the medical sciences and humanities and practical clinical experience. Career paths in nursing are varied and can include specialisations such as paediatric nursing, geriatric nursing, surgical nursing, psychiatric nursing, chronic disease care, and nursing management and education.

Professional development in nursing offers myriad opportunities for specialisation, allowing nurses and nurse practitioners to continually improve their skills and adapt to changing healthcare needs. From intensive critical care to palliative care, nurses play a key role in providing comprehensive care that is tailored to each patient's individual needs.

Humanising medicine through the lens of nursing

In an era when advanced technology and rapid medical advances are transforming the healthcare landscape, the humanisation of medicine is taking on a new dimension. Nurses and nurse practitioners, standing at the frontline of patient contact, play a key role in ensuring that human warmth and a personalised approach remain at the heart of healthcare. Humanising medicine through the lens of nursing emphasises the importance of understanding the patient not just as a medical case, but as a person with their own needs, concerns and expectations.

Nurses, through their daily work, have the unique opportunity to build deep, empathetic relationships with patients. They witness their struggles and often become the people to whom patients turn for comfort, understanding and support. Nurses are often the first to notice changes in a patient's emotional state, allowing them to respond quickly and adapt their care to better meet the patient's needs.

Nurses also play an important role in educating patients and their families, providing them with the necessary information about their condition, treatment plan and possible support options. By imparting knowledge in a way that is understandable and tailored to the individual, nursing staff help patients and their relatives feel more involved and confident in the treatment process.

The humanistic approach in nursing manifests itself in a variety of ways, from small gestures such as holding the patient's hand during difficult procedures, to organising meetings with the family that can help patients cope better with their illness. Nurses often act as mediators between patients and the rest of the medical team, making sure that the patient's voice is heard and taken into account in the treatment process.

Challenges and obstacles to the humanisation of care

The humanisation of medicine, despite its fundamental value, faces numerous challenges and obstacles. Nurses and nurse practitioners, being on the front line of healthcare, often face difficulties that can hinder the realisation of this important goal. Understanding these challenges and developing effective coping strategies is key to promoting the humanisation of medicine and increasing the quality of care.

One of the main challenges is chronic work overload and staff shortages, which can lead to burnout among nursing staff. Constant time pressures and increased workloads limit the opportunities to build deeper relationships with patients and devote sufficient time to them, which is important in humanising care.

Systemic constraints

Healthcare systems often emphasise efficiency and cost reduction, which can lead to a focus on procedures and technology at the expense of an individualised approach to the patient. In addition, rigorous procedures and protocols, while necessary to ensure safety and standards of care, can limit flexibility and the ability to tailor care to individual patient needs.

Strategies for dealing with challenges

  • Mental health promotion and support for nursing staff: Healthcare organisations can implement psychological support programmes, training on coping with stress and professional burnout, and promote a caring and collaborative work culture.
  • Optimising resources and better staff planning: More effective resource management, including better rostering and staff augmentation, can help reduce overload and improve quality of care.
  • Education and professional development: ongoing training and development of communication and empathy skills are key to maintaining a high standard of humanised medicine. Investing in the education of nursing staff improves the quality of care and enables them to better cope with professional challenges.
  • Increase patient and family involvement: Promoting a model of care that actively involves patients and their families in the treatment process can improve communication, understanding and satisfaction with care.

The humanisation of medicine requires continuous commitment and adaptation to changing conditions. Faced with numerous challenges, nurses need support at both organisational and systemic levels to be able to effectively promote patient-centred care. By addressing these challenges strategically and with empathy, it is possible to create a healthcare environment in which both patients and healthcare staff feel supported, valued and understood.