Today in the chart

December Wise Word of the Month: Thick

As nurses, how can we emerge from the “thick of everyday care” to make an impact that lasts beyond our moments at the bedside?

Photo by: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Linguistically, the word thick might not seem entirely related to nursing. Emerging from Old English, the Oxford English Dictionary defines thick as “So as to be thick; to a great depth.” One of the first recorded uses of thick in modern English is from 1860’s J. Tyndall’s Glaciers of Alps, “The snow..lay thick upon the glacier.”

Consider, however, how nurse and board member Mary Rotunno, J.D., uses the word “thick” metaphorically: “I think that as nurses, we forget how valuable our experience is because we are simply in the thick of everyday care. We know that we’re helping people; nursing is seen as a helping profession - and we know that we make a difference to our patients. But taking a step back to see the bigger picture and the impact of clinical experience on a broader scale is what leadership through board service is all about.”

Thick has been used in this figurative sense for centuries. “To lay it on thick,” or as the OED says - “to do something with vehemence or excess” - first appeared in 1740 in Champion, “You may lay on Honour and Beauty, and all Manner of Virtues as thick as you please.”

It’s no secret that nurses have very stressful and often overwhelming jobs, and as Rotunno says, it can be hard to think of the big picture when you are thrown into the thick of it every day. Caring for patients by the bedside and tending to their families is a tough job, aside from the fact that people’s lives depend on your thoughtfulness and attention to detail.

As a nurse, especially if you are considering a leadership role or are a part of any boardroom discussions, being able to emerge from the thick of everyday care - to take a step back and see how your job fits into a large ecosystem of human cooperation and wellness - is necessary to create positive changes and keep the healthcare system functioning smoothly for both doctors and nurses, as well as the patients and wider community.

One way to do this is through board service. To further quote Rotunno, because nursing is a “helping profession,” it is crucial that nurses use their position to push for positive change in the boardroom. The help and care that nurses can give to patients on a personal level is hard to match, and this unique skill should not be sequestered within the walls of a hospital or clinic.

Boardroom meetings are where policies are created and implemented, and a nurse’s perspective is critical to making decisions in the best interest of the patients. Because of their place in the hospital, nurses know exactly what helps and hinders patients and their families. While the day-to-day duties of the job help patients directly, being a part of the big picture thinking is what can make lasting changes in the healthcare system, ultimately benefiting anyone who steps foot into a hospital.

It can be easy to get stuck in the thick of routine and stressful procedures as nurses. It is crucial to keep in mind all of the ways that you can impact lives as a nurse and go even further beyond bedside care.

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