I had another lightbulb moment today - a truly privilidged experience of "walking in my patient and their families shoes" and understanding the very importance of the impact healthcare professionals can have upon those under their care. For a while now one of my guiding principles has been an inspiring quote by the great writer Maya Angelou. She said:
With that context in mind, for those who do not mix in paediatric healthcare circles - let me explain the principle of a "bravery certificate". A Travel Health Nurse specialist describes bravery certificates as "one of the most popular items nurses like to use when seeing children". It's very true. In my 13 years qualified as a nurse, I have seen again and again how important they are to the young people and their families. But largely within the NHS - they are often seen as a "luxury" that a nurse can only personalise for their patients if they have time. Sadly the comment I often receive if I am taking time to colour in a bravery certificate for my patient is - "well you obviously aren't busy if you have time to do that". I understand that comment - in an NHS often consummed with bed numbers, targets, waiting times and so on - a "little" thing like a bravery certificate is seen as unnecessary.
But here's what made me re-energised in the important part they play in the overall experience for especially children and young people and their families - twice this week, and from two different families, I have been able to find the time (usually during my break) to colour in bravery certificates for my patients and have given them on discharge. And both times I got the same comment from the families;
"Oh wow - look at that "Billy" - we will frame that and put it on your wall!".
Let me make it clear - I am no artist. My colouring is poor and I sometimes step outside the line. It is no masterpiece worthy of the National Gallery! So why this response I wondered?
My reflection leads me to believe that it is quite simply that this certificate reinforces to your patient and their family the fact that you - their nurse - have thought of them as a PERSON - not as a bed number. The very little bit of colouring demonstrates that you have taken a little bit of extra time in your busy day (and your patients know you are busy - they are mostly watching you!) to express your admiration for the bravery they have demonstrated. And I think that by giving them this little gift along with their discharge paperwork - you are showing that you recognise they and their families have been through a great deal in coming into hospital and going through the procedure they have or the treatment they have.
My call to nurses is - it doesn't have to be bravery certificates. It's not about "what". It's about "how you make them feel". It is the little action of showing your patient and their family that you are recognising they are people, they have their own individual stories and hopes and fears and aspirations. It shows that you recognise them coming into hospital is a big deal for them (and possibly scares them rigid) and you care about that and their feelings.
So don't think "it's nothing - it's not important" as yes - bravery certificates can't be quantified, and don't meet CQUIN standards for NHS Trusts. They are important I feel, because they make a difference to the patients and their families at that moment in time, and improves their patient experience ten-fold. And that is the one opportunity we have. Chief Nurse of NHS England - the wonderful Jane Cummings - always says "we only have one opportunity". And back to my opening quote from Maya Angelou;
"They may forget what we said, they may forget what we did - but they will never, ever forget how we made them feel".
And as nurses - our NMC Code of Conduct binds us - we MUST put patients first!