01/07/2014 05:00 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2014

A Fierce Advocate

A patient's parent pulled me aside in the middle of a busy and difficult day recently, a day full of contradicting opinions of the plan between the providers and the family. I did my best to stay neutral, to do my part to allow the family's voices to be heard by the physicians, but to also defend the stance of the physicians to the family who was frustrated and at the point of likely disagreeing with anything presented to them.

The parent pulled me aside not to comment on my medical knowledge or my skills. She didn't even comment on my ability to contort my body around large machines and pieces of equipment, over their bodies, in order to access whatever I needed to on their child without disturbing them, without asking anyone to move. Rather, she thanked me for being such a "fierce advocate."

I was speechless. An extremely rare state for me, the girl whose parents used to pay her to be quiet in 30-minute increments. (I never made it a full 30 minutes, so the expense was never great for them.) Either way, there I was, unable to muster a reply. Surprised by what an amazingly insightful and flattering compliment it was.

In nursing school we are told over and over the importance of this part of our role. We are at the bedside, we are the patient advocate, the voice of the silent, the constant support. I know this is my role, and I take the job seriously, but I feel I am so rarely complimented on it or acknowledged for it. I felt so validated. I sensed all the frustration and burn out I had been feeling lately slowly begin to melt away. As I reflected over her comment in the following days I felt more and more excited to go to work, to do my job, and do it well.

I began to realize how important advocacy is. Not just in the nursing profession, but in all human relationships. We say that humans are relational beings, that we need each other to survive, to lead full and happy lives, but what is it exactly that we need from each other? Shouldn't advocacy be the driving force or focus in all of our relationships?

We all need people who will be beside us and defend us, but more than that, people who will stand up and fight for us when we can't do it ourselves. The definition of an advocate is a supporter, one who will argue, even plead for a cause. How often are we willing to plead for others? I mean really plead, beg even, put ourselves in a potentially vulnerable position in the interest of someone who can't do it for themselves? I can honestly say I rarely do.

So this is my New Year's resolution, in addition to improved diet and exercise, of course. This year, in 2014, I resolve to be a better advocate for the people I love.

In my work, I hope to leave every parent and patient I encounter feeling the way this mother did, like I was fiercely advocating for their child's needs. Fighting to have their voices heard when they were unable to project them personally. I will advocate for the team I am a part of, defending them in return to the families that by design are closer to me than the physicians we both rely on.

I will advocate for my coworkers, working to no longer sit by silently, or even worse, join in when gossip and griping take over and we succumb to our embarrassing nature of complaining about others, ripping apart their character and work behind their backs. I will try to stand up for the people I work with, even when I, too, am frustrated by their decisions or choices. How easy it is to fall silent when people are complaining, and worse, how harmful it can be to join in and exacerbate the situation. How damaging it is to be the target of such situations.

In my personal life I will do the same, advocating for the friends and family that I love. I hope to be the friend that people can be confident is on their side, in their corner, always, in anything.

I have had an enormously eventful year of changes and growth in 2013, and I have felt so incredibly supported throughout it all by family and friends, old coworkers, and the new ones who have jumped right in and made me feel at home, as if I have been here all along. I have felt supported by my readers, strangers who only know my blog and not the girl behind it all. I have felt safe to be vulnerable and it has paid off. And now it is my turn.

In 2014 I will be a fierce advocate.