THE BLOG
07/31/2014 06:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Not All Nurses Are Created Equal

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Most nurses are great! But I've decided that there are two kinds of nurses -- those who are just punching a time clock and getting a paycheck, and those who are nursing from the heart -- helping improve not just your mood, but your health, as well. What's the difference?
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Heart-Centered Nurses:

They give you a warm smile and encouraging words.
I know, it seems like a small thing. But a smile goes a long way when you're in an unfamiliar setting like the operating room or the Emergency Department. I can remember one surgical nurse who could see I was on edge as soon as I was rolled into the operating room. He smiled big at me, grabbed my hand and said, "There is no need to worry here, our job is to worry for you." I instantly felt more at ease.

They get to know your family. A nurse who is able to connect to not just you but also your family is a treasure. Some of the best nursing staff I have met remembered the names of my family members and got to know them during their shift. This developed a trust and connection between us that seemed to carry us through the bad times in the hospital.

They use touch. When your body is ailing, human touch from caring hands at just the right time can do wonders. A pat on the back or a hand to hold when you're scared can really change your life when you're sick. After open-heart surgery, a very special nurse came in and rubbed my back as I lay in bed weeping after I first saw my surgery site, a blood-red incision down the middle of my chest.

They have your back. Maybe it was part of her job. I'll never really know, but one nurse I had so thoroughly responded to a drastic change in my condition that she saved my life. It involved her in getting very messy and even crying with me as my status declined. Three doctors stood in the room at the same time with us. None of them made a move toward me. They stood watching the monitors while she bailed me out. Later as I re-told the story I realized that she was the hero. I will never forget her.

They have a sense of humor. Wonder if you have a heart-centered nurse in your room? If he or she has a twinkle in the eye, a good story or joke to tell and still does the job like a pro, you do! Most great nurses know that a light-hearted but proficient approach to their care can ease a patient's fears and possibly even speed their recovery. One particular ER nurse I met had to keep long night hours with me over the holidays while we waited for a specialist to show up. When I asked him how he and the other staff managed the intensity of working late in a trauma center, he didn't miss a beat when he said, "Oh, we drink a lot after work!" My whole family erupted in laughter at his quick wit, and we even speculated about having him over for Christmas dinner.

They follow you home. Okay, they don't really follow you home, but you don't cease to exist as a patient or as a person when you leave their floor. Heart-centered nurses check up on you. Once when I was in an out-of-state hospital, my favorite nurse checked up on me as I was moved to a new floor and even called me at home when I was dismissed just to make sure my husband and I were still doing OK. Bravo!

Clock-Punchers:

They offer little or no comfort. Hard to believe, but some nurses keep a stony face even when their patient is obviously suffering. One time I had a nurse who was irritated and angry with me because I was in pain. I delayed pushing the call button after major surgery because of her shaming demeanor. Ultimately I was not able to get up and around as quickly and my dismissal to go home was delayed.

They complain about the organization they work for.
If your nurse has nothing good to say about the doctor or hospital he works for -- beware! This individual should probably not be handling your care. Their negative mindset (even if it's justified) could translate into a bad experience for you. Some health care staff take their problems with the institution out on the patients.

They travel from location to location. Be on guard with traveling nurses. Some health care systems hire temp "traveling nurses" that float to multiple hospitals in different cities. The arrangement can offer great personal opportunities for the nurses -- but not necessarily for the patients. I've found that these nurses, perhaps by the nature of their job, are more detached from their patients.

They float from floor to floor. Many hospitals use staff called "float nurses" to cover extra shifts on various floors. While these employees are often very nice, they're oriented toward more general nursing and not fully trained for the specialty of each department. Like the traveling nurses, they won't likely be back your way anytime soon and may not give you the tender and expert care of someone who works on that floor all the time.

They talk too much. While I love a nurse who encourages me with words and smiles, some just plain talk too much. If your nurse wears you out with a barrage of talking and personal stories, that is the wrong nurse for you. If a nurse shares her personal problems with you, the scales might tip, and she will end up becoming your patient! Be on alert for needy nurses and avoid them at all costs. The plain fact is that too much information can wear you out when you're already exhausted from being sick.

Like I said, most nurses do a fabulous job. But even very good nurses can have a bad day. So, if your nurse is doing a pretty good job, just let it be. If he is taking care of business but not particularly warm and friendly, he is probably just stressed and behind on his tasks. But some are downright incompetent or mean. Once, a nurse didn't believe me when I said that my IV was throbbing with pain. She refused to change it, and I developed red streaks on my arm below the IV and the beginning of an infection. The night nurse who replaced her listened to me and got me the help I needed.

If you need help and don't think your particular nurse is right for you, here's what to do:

Ask to speak to the charge nurse with your concerns. Likely, this will take care of the problem. The charge nurse is the dedicated nurse for the day who oversees any and all concerns on that floor. If she doesn't help you, ask for the nurse manager and explain what you're experiencing. The nurse manager is everyone's boss. She may be able to help. If you still experiencing a sourpuss nurse, call patient affairs and ask that the nurse be re-assigned to someone else. Remember that a rising tide raises all ships, so if you do have a good or even great nurse -- tell her so! Sharing your positive experience will likely cause it to multiply.

This article originally appeared on reimagine.me a new online magazine for those who have been touched by cancer, and an education resource that teaches a powerful set of skills to start feeling better immediately.