Nursing is often a thankless career, and yet it is one we as a society would not be able to survive without. This Tribute Series aims to give nurses two things they receive far too little of: recognition and gratitude.
Paula Franklin became a nurse when she was 19 years old. Now, with over 40 years of experience in the field, the number of lives she has changed is nothing short of remarkable. Amidst working night shifts, being a mother, a grandmother of four, and a great-grandmother to two beautiful girls, Paula made time to share some of her story and invaluable nursing insight with me.
Why did you decide to pursue a nursing career?
I got into [nursing] to fix people. It was something I wanted for as long as I can remember. As a child I had a medical kit and I would “fix” my dolls and “fix” my dog. I was always trying to fix someone or something. At some point that turned into me wanting to be a nurse. I started right out of high school. It’s just been part of who I am.It’s just been part of who I am.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The difference I make in people’s lives. These days people are in and out of the hospital much faster than they used to be…but, even now, the difference you can see in patients in a matter of a few days reminds you what type of impact your care has on them.
What is the toughest part of your job?
The unexpected deaths are hard. Helping the families in those situations is really hard. It’s also tough when patients get really bad news about their health. Walking them through those initial feelings of shock, anger, disbelief, and sadness… can be really difficult. And when a patient gets bad news about, say, a family member, but cannot leave the hospital. Maybe their child was in an accident, and they can’t leave or do anything about it. As a mother myself, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have that happen. Those are tough moments.
How do you keep going in the hard moments?
Paula is a firm believer in finding a silver lining, and creating space for emotions.
The reality is that some situations are not going to get better. Sometimes you can’t change that. When that happens, you find what you can do to create the most positive outcome with the circumstances you have, and you focus on that. Maybe it’s helping someone’s family. If they don’t have family, maybe it’s helping them not be alone when they pass from this world…creating as much comfort and dignity for someone as possible. Figure out what you can do, and let that impact be the reward. It’s okay to cry. I always tell newer nurses it is okay to cry. You can cry with the family if you need to, or you can cry in the bathroom, but do it. We all handle pain differently. Sometimes just a big hug and a shoulder to cry on makes things better. It’s okay to cry.
The nurses who have been fortunate enough to have Paula as a coworker know that she is the one to go to when they need a shoulder to cry on.
What is something you wish more people understood about nursing?
People oftentimes just forget the basics: we [nurses] are here to take care of them. To get them better…to get them over the current issue. Whether it’s wound care or recovery from surgery…we are here to care for them and meet their needs so they can move on, NOT to be their handmaiden. Many people come to the hospital to get better…to go somewhere beyond the hospital. We are there to help them do that, to help them get there…not to be a punching bag or a servant. I also wish people knew how little support nurses usually have, and how much we do.
What makes you feel appreciated as a nurse?
A “thank you.” Whether it comes from a patient, family member, anyone. Sometimes in a double room, when a patient hears another patient being cruel, they will apologize on their behalf and show appreciation, and it means so much. It means so much to know your care is noticed.
What advice do you have for nurses entering the field?
Remember why you chose nursing. I know some people choose it for different reasons…but for those who chose nursing because they want to make a difference in people’s lives, remember that in the hard moments. We are all going to have bad days and want to quit. On those days, pause. Remind yourself why you chose to become a nurse, go get a good night (or day) of sleep, and come back refreshed. Tomorrow will be a new day. I have cried on my way home and said I am not going back many times. Not going back seems like a good idea in the moment. Then you sleep on it, you feel rested, and then you come back. Why? Because you are stronger than this. Don’t take things personally. It’s hard not to, I know. But it really isn’t personal. You’re just sometimes the person [patients and families] have closest to them in those moments, so it’s you lash out at. Be that fair or not. Letting stuff roll off your back comes with experience. Also, don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself. For those who chose nursing because they want to make a difference in people’s lives, remember that in the hard moments
A highlight of your career?
There was one time I had a 21-year-old who was autistic. I must have stuck in his mind because I was his first nurse and welcomed him to the unit. I had him for several days. When he left, he wrote me a love letter. It was pinned to a board in the unit for a while, and now I have it framed. He just thought I was the best nurse ever! That was a highlight of my career for sure.
A lot of heart goes into a career centered around holding the hands of others. Our nurses deserve honor and respect.
Here’s to you, Paula Franklin. THANK YOU!
Thank you for dedicating your life to helping us. Thank you for walking behind, beside, and in front of us. You are a gift, and we are grateful.