We continue to highlight our Caritas Colleagues and share their contribution and commitment to Caring Science. This month we are celebrating: Chris Griffin PhD, RN, NPD-BC, CPN, Caritas Coach®, Master HeartMath Trainer.
Dignity, care, connection, moments all matter. If you forget these, you forget your purpose and you become a robot offering medicine not healing.
Becoming a nurse was not always my career of choice. I knew growing up that I wanted to work with children. I knew early on in life that I enjoyed caring for other people. There is something magical when you make a unique difference in someone else’s life, especially a child’s. It grounds you in a way that is both fulfilling and gives you a sense of reason for your existence. Like many nurses I idolized the idea of saving lives and being a hero. I thought every nurse shared the same belief that the role meant giving of yourself in order to make a meaningful difference in the world. That the ability to care was the reward for the job. I quickly learned that while many nurses start with this in their hearts, the demands of the job can overwhelm that ideal, leaving caring people in survival mode with not a lot left to offer their patients.
Before I even left school, I was already becoming disheartened by the realities of what nursing had become. There were times I had decided that nursing was not going to be my path, but every time I got close to stepping away something would happen to bring me back in. Rather someone would happen. One such person was a woman who I met on a surgical rotation.
I was pawned off on a clinical assistant by a busy nurse who did not want to precept yet another nursing student. I worked with this clinical assistant as she robotically gave every patient their bed bath for the day. She was always rushed and never talked to the patients because in her words “they don’t even know we are here”. They had become objects to her. Tasks that she could check off and move on to the next. One of the patients was a woman who had fallen in her kitchen and could not get to a phone to call for help. She was found comatose and during her recovery was not able to move or talk. The second day I again found myself on bath duty and was assigned to this patient on my own. Since I had the time, I took extra care of her. I wanted her to know I cared. That she mattered. I talked to her even though she could not make eye contact. I covered her body to offer dignity even though she had no control. I made sure she was warm through the whole process as I cleaned her body and massaged in lotion to bring relief to her muscles. She never moved or made a sound during the whole time I was with her, so I left not knowing if I accomplished helping her feel care.
The next week I went back, and she asked to see me. I was surprised as I was told her prospects of recovering were low. As I approached her, she began to cry. She asked to hold my hand and told me that the bath I gave her saved her life. She had decided not to try and get better because she felt like she was no longer human, and that she didn’t matter to anyone. Then I talked to her, told her she had beautiful eyes. I gave her dignity by seeing the human behind the diagnosis and gave her the hope she needed to keep trying. A simple bath, that offered dignity and a simple connection was what sustained her as a human until she could recover and heal.
I went back to school with an entirely different perspective of what nursing was supposed to be. Dignity, care, connection, moments all matter. If you forget these, you forget your purpose and you become a robot offering medicine not healing.
This is just one story of so many that remind me why I choose to care for others and why I need a foundation in Caring Science to stay connected to my values as a nurse. I was close to losing this connection when I was introduced to Jean Watson and the Theory of Caring Science. Almost immediately it reconnected me to my heart and the purpose of love and compassion for myself and others.
Now I work to share this narrative and listen to others as we learn how to sustain ourselves to be able to continue to sustain others. To help them understand that self-care and self-compassion are not side work they are the work. That only when you become whole, can you fully care for another and help them find healing. This is the work and I hope others join me as we begin again…
Areas of Expertise
Christine Griffin is a nurse at Children’s Hospital Colorado, board-certified nurse in professional development matching expertise in adult learning with a passion to heal the healers in healthcare. For the past ten years Chris has develop resiliency curriculum, presented at national and international conferences and offered workshops with healthcare organizations around the country. Chris became a Caritas Coach in 2009 and is a faculty for the Caritas Coach Education Program® (CCEP). In her PhD program Chris studied how a foundation in Caring Science helps inform compassion fatigue interventions to decrease burnout, mediate secondary trauma and increase compassion satisfaction for healthcare providers. Chris has a passion to help other healthcare providers build a practice of self-care and compassion through a shared narrative and experiential learning opportunities to decrease the suffering of those who are called to care for others.
Contribution to the Legacy of Caring Science
Receiving my PhD in Nursing/Caring Science has created an important avenue to illustrate how the practices and values of Caring Science can serve all care givers. Caring Science does not have all the answers to magically fix the complexities of being a nurse/care giver. It cannot change acuities of patients or take away the inadequacies of medicine as an imperfect science. It does not attempt to minimize the pain and suffering of the experiences to create a false sense of ‘just do this’ and it will be easy. Caring Science begins by honoring all these intricacies and giving voice to deep connection the nurses/care givers feel for their patients. It unabashedly reminds medical models that Caritas professionals offer expertise that no other part of healthcare understands or attempts to provide. Jean Watson herself, draws on concepts like consciousness, oneness, vulnerability, dignity that at times seem intangible to modern medicine but are a perfect description of what a nurse does. She then freely imparts her comprehensive understanding of human caring to provide a theoretical foundation that nurses/care giver can stand on as they work through the complexities of their roles. Most importantly Jean Watson presents a way to build a practice around these concepts so that every nurse/care giver has a path toward personal wholeness. They include honoring relational based care that invites love and transpersonal care to the bedside, an ethical foundation that honors dignity and compassion for both care provider and patient, and practices that bring in compassion as a consciousness, being in right relation with self, equanimity and loving kindness that celebrate the sacredness of the compassion nurses/care givers offer the world.
The aim of my study was to understand the lived experience of care providers. It starts with the two key presuppositions. First, we agree that no care provider should suffer because they choose to care for others. Also, we must agree that no care provider should feel dehumanized because they find themselves unable to care anymore. What is offered in Caring Science honors both of those beliefs and offers some tangible ways to minimize suffering for the care provider. The practices within Caring Science are an offering to nurses; an invitation to examine a new way of being and becoming within a nursing practice; a way to build new patterns and possibilities towards flourishing as a nurse/care giver. I want to continue to share Jean Watson’s legacy of this type of care, to remind care givers that if Jean Watson were here now, she would probably bow to honor everything they do and gently remind them that they deserve to be whole. She would also ask each care giver to be kinder to themselves; permission to not heal the entire world because that will simply break them. Rather she would ask the care giver to begin to heal themselves knowing that when nurses/care givers are healed, so is the world.
Griffin, C. (2020) Contributor in: Nursing Theories and Nursing Practice 5th Edition, Smith, M., Philadelphia, PA: FA Davis.
Griffin, C. (2018) Chapter in: Caritas Coaching: A journey toward transpersonal caring for informed moral action in healthcare, Horton-Deutsch, S. & Anderson, J. Indianapolis, IN: Sigma