The Ideal Nurse

In 1910, the American Journal of Nursing published an article titled, The Ideal Nurse. It was written by a registered nurse named Rebecca H. McNeill.

In The Ideal Nurse, McNeill outlined the qualities of her ideal caretaker. The nurse she describes is compassionate, kind, dedicated, loyal, and motivated by a higher calling:

No true nurse every loses her sympathy…she has the deep sympathy which causes her not only to feel for her patient’s woes, but prompts her best efforts to alleviate them. The true nurse is devoted to her work, faithful in all that she does, neither shrinking nor shirking any responsibility that may present itself. The ideal nurse should be able to understand the whys and wherefores of her physician’s orders, and be able to execute them with judgment.”

This vision of the ideal RN, written over one century ago, is strikingly similar to the vision we uphold today. This is a testament to the heroic work of the nurse, a role that has remained essential and unwavering in the face of vast cultural and technological change.

McNeill also beautifully portrays the life of a nurse; its sacrifices and hardships as well as its transcendent rewards:

Unless a nurse is prepared for a life of untiring effort and disappointments, discomforts or deprivations, countless sacrifices of time, talent, and inclination, unless, indeed, able to suppress her own heartaches and to give herself bravely and brightly to all the work with patience, enduring all things…She must have singleness or purpose, directing all her energies toward the faithful accomplishment of her life’s work; be loyal to her doctor, her patient, and herself; having neither eyes nor ears for the misfortunes of others, and saying only those things that she is sure will prove helpful to her patient, remembering that “silence is golden” and that gossip is a major sin.”

Nurses are the backbone of the American healthcare system. Even more, they can be seen as the protectors of the American spirit. When in search of compassion, generosity, loyalty, and duty to one’s fellow man or woman, look to a nurse.

GIFTED Nurses Describe “The Ideal Nurse”

Any time we spotlight a GIFTED RN, we always ask them to describe the qualities of the ideal nurse. Each of them must draw from an intensely personal and unique set of experiences to create their own philosophy of care.

To celebrate the long history of nurses everywhere who have contributed to the collective vision of the ideal nurse, we have included every GIFTED RN’s response to the question: “What qualities does the ideal nurse have?”

Read on for their inspiring, heartwarming answers.

Charlotte Swopes, RN

First and foremost, you have to care about people. You’ve got to have integrity; people aren’t going to be watching you, so you’ll be expected to be diligent.

You have to have a sense of ethics. You have to see all your patients as one: you can’t look at color, you can’t look at nationality, you can’t look at economic background. You have to care about your patients regardless of the situation.

You have to have a heart of compassion.

Megan Selser, RN

Advocating for your patient is number one, despite any effect it will have on you. Always put patient advocacy in front of everything else.

I love to make my patients laugh. I know what it’s like to feel unhappy — so I try hard to be a light in someone’s day, in some type of way, even if they’re going through something terrible.

I think a great nurse also celebrates wins, even when they’re really small. Someone who takes care of the patient and the family. Most of the time, like if a patient is intubated, you become the nurse for their family. Yes, you are there for the patient’s physical needs, but the family is what you’re taking care of. I try to involve the family as much as I can in patient care, because it matters.

Erica Rogers, RN

My motto is, “compassion is the highest level of intellect.” A brilliant nurse is someone who understands that concept.

Emmanuel Paron, RN

As nurses, we are just instruments of the love of God. When you take care of patients, many times they are in their worst moments – you take care of them no matter what.

The core of nursing is caring. When you care for somebody, you do everything you can to take care of them. It can be as simple as holding a patient’s hand.

You educate yourself, study more to become an expert, so that when a patient comes into the hospital you are as prepared as possible to take care of them.

What I believe is that the core of nursing is caring.

Taylor McCombs, RN

For me, the ideal nurse is detail-oriented and compassionate. They stick to their own personal morals and values, as well as the principles set by the facility they’re working at. It mostly comes down to the individual – if you hold yourself to high moral standards, it will impact the way that you do your job. 

Chelsea Wynder, RN

Someone who is compassionate, who is nurturing, and is the person who will be there when a patient feels they have no one else. That’s what I had when I was sick, and what I needed…and that’s what my mom needed, too.

Eddie Kaiser, RN

The standard answer is someone who is compassionate, who wants good healthcare for their patients, but I like to go deeper. A nurse needs to be somebody who treats their patients as though they are family. However, that patient is also the chairman of the board. For the most part, patients are in control of their care, until they can’t be anymore. To me, it’s very important to make sure the patient is shoulder to shoulder with you as a caregiver.

A nurse must be able to think critically through a process of care — for any patient, you need to ask yourself, ‘What are the family dynamics of this patient? What is their belief system? What are their core values?’ The ideal nurse is well-rounded with all of that, including compassion, patience, caring, attention to detail. And finally, you have to know what you’re doing: you have to be skilled, you have to be confident, and you have to be able to go into new situations and mesh into the nursing staff. An ideal travel nurse not only has to display these qualities with patients, but they also have to display these qualities with the staff around them.

Jill Maxwell, RN

I’ve worked all over, and I’ve worked with a lot of nurses. And there are a few qualities you’ll find in the best ones. You have to be compassionate, and you have to be approachable. 

When people are sick, they want a smiling face.

James Dorsett, RN

Someone who’s a straight shooter. Someone who can be honest and not sugarcoat things. Someone who is empathetic, not sympathetic. And for me, everything is about trust. If you lose the trust of your patient, you lose everything. I am a nurse because I like making an impact in people’s lives. If you do the best you can 100 percent of the time, people remember that.

Transia Brown, LPN

I never met my grandparents. I adopted a lot of my friends’ grandparents. When I go into work, I think of my patients as my grandmother or grandfather that I never met.

A lot of people have pride. A lot of my patients are scared to tell me that they’re in pain, or that they need help, because they’re not used to being in that situation. But if you make them feel they can trust you and that you’re concerned about them, they’re more open to you.”

I let them know: I’m here for you. Don’t feel like you can’t call me. Whatever you need, call me, and I’m there.

If you can’t go into a facility, or someone’s home, and take care of someone like they are your mom, or your dad, or your brother, or your sister, and treat them the way that you would want to be treated – then you don’t need to be a nurse.

I look at every patient as though they are part of my family, because I leave my own family to go out every day and do my job. And when I get older, I would want someone to take care of me as though I am a part of their family. That’s the ideal nurse to me.

Join GIFTED and Achieve Your Nursing Dreams

Are you a nurse looking for exciting career opportunities and the flexibility to pursue other projects? From travel to per diem contracts, GIFTED Healthcare provides clinicians with high-paying jobs at premier healthcare facilities across the nation.

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McNeill, Rebecca H. “The Ideal Nurse.” American Journal of Nursing: March 1910 – Volume 10 – Issue 6 – pp. 392-93

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