Ron Kraus, 49, has been an emergency nurse for 24 years and is president-elect of the Emergency Nurses Association.
Kraus, who works at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, shared some of the wisdom his job has taught him in an interview with TODAY.
I was going to be a dentist, but my father said, “You need to get a job you’re going to love.” I was always really interested in first aid and I had family members who were paramedics, so I switched over to nursing and I’m so glad I did.
Here’s what I want people to know after almost a quarter century on the job:
It shouldn’t hurt to care.
We see a lot of car accident victims, broken legs, falls, burns. For the patient, this could be the worst day of their entire life — the only time they’re ever in the emergency department.
I know it’s scary, but put your trust in us and we’ll give you the utmost safety and great care.
We ask the public for a respectful interaction. Show us grace. Unfortunately, we see violence against nurses from patients and family members, which really hurts. Our calling is to care and provide care, so when people lash out, whether verbally or physically, it really eats at you.
One of my colleagues said it shouldn’t hurt to care. So just be respectful of us and know we’re there for you.
Self-care is vital.
This profession can be extremely stressful. Being able to share frustrations is important. You need to share with colleagues because bottling it up can be very unhealthy. When you’re off work, be off work. Take care of yourself and do something that you like. Enjoy a hobby and get rest.
I tell new people coming into the profession: As nurses, we tend to focus on the things we didn’t do quite right. But I want them to reframe their mind. Think about how many people in your 12-hour shift you have touched and made a difference in their lives. Focus on that. We impact a lot of lives and we don’t even think about it.
Ask us questions.
Health care is very complicated and specialized, so ask questions, engage with your providers and take ownership in your own health. You can ask a nurse, “Why are you doing this test or procedure?” in a respectful way. Let’s have a good dialogue. Ultimately, we want you to have the best outcome. We want you to walk away happy and healthy, that’s why we’re here.
We’re getting a handle on the coronavirus.
For a lot of us, the fear of the unknown at the beginning took us all by surprise. Now that we have a little bit more knowledge of what’s going on — and each day, we’re getting a little bit more — our staff is still cautious, but we’re handling the cases well, at least in our area.
Things have gotten better. We’ve caught up and we understand more. That allows us to have the knowledge and be able to care for patients while maintaining our safety.
Tell us how you’re doing.
For us in emergency departments, it often seems like a thankless job because we take care of you on maybe the worst day of your entire life. Then you get discharged or moved upstairs and we never see you again, we don’t know what happened to you. Sometimes patients will come back in and tell us “thank you” — I like that.
I was once in a restaurant and a gentleman stopped me and said, “I want to say thank you. It was a crazy night and you guys were busy, running back and forth, and I just asked you if my mother could get another blanket because she was a little chilly. You paused, you got my mom a blanket and I just want to say thank you for doing that.”
That simple act made a huge impact on him and then he made a huge impact on me by just saying “thank you.” That right there recharged my batteries for a long time.
Life is fragile.
Seeing death, you do realize life is very fragile. Probably one of the hardest things to be is a nurse’s child. My kid has to wear a helmet; we make sure we’re doing stuff safely.
I remember a young patient who was involved in a car crash. Externally, she looked fine, but she had a non-survivable brain injury. She was a young vibrant girl not even out of high school yet and seeing the parents’ pain when they walked in the room — that still impacts me. Now as a father, it’s very difficult to think about that.
Live life to the fullest because you just don’t know. You can’t live in a bubble, but be smart. Be safe. Take that second moment to think before you do something that seems a little silly. Wear your seat belt. Don’t speed. Don’t do distracted driving. Wear your helmet. Stay physically and mentally in shape the best you can.
Life is short, love what you do.
My wife said one time, “I don’t know anybody who gets so excited to wake up in the morning and go to work.” Being a nurse has allowed me to do amazing things. I worked as nurse for the IndyCar Series, which allowed me to go to Brazil and Japan. I once worked as a flight nurse in a helicopter.
I love the challenge and the team work — we all have the common goal of helping people.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.