The Power of a Nurse: Penn State Health debuts photojournalistic project for National Nurses Week May 6-12
By Carolyn Kimmel and Jenn Knepper
In nursing school, Chelsea Stoner learned all the necessary skills—patient assessment, medication calculations, charting—to train her for a career in health care, but nothing could prepare her for the raw emotions she would encounter.
“In every patient, I saw my neighbor, my father, my grandmother…I found myself crying in the supply room, in the parking garage and at home,” said Stoner, who works in Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s Medical Intermediate Care Unit (MIMCU). “To protect myself, I decided to shut it all off. I clocked in, did my job and left…But then I lost the most important part of nursing—the human connection.”
In time, Stoner, a registered nurse for four years, learned how to balance the many aspects of her role—technician, caretaker, physician partner, encourager—and contributor to some of the most important moments in a person’s life story.
“Some of these patients have lived for almost a century, and I get the honor of being the last person to care for them, to hold their hand and to pray with them,” she said. “This is what gets me through the day and helps me to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Being a nurse takes grit paired with tenderness, methodical diligence and on-the-spot resourcefulness, nerves of steel yet words of compassion. It’s a “calling,” people often say, with admiration but little understanding of what the job entails.
“There’s a stereotype of nurses—as compassionate and caring—but nurses use evidence-based practice and autonomous decision-making to achieve positive patient outcomes,” said Jenn Oehme Knepper, critical care float nurse at the Medical Center. “Many times in the intensive care unit, people tell me they had no idea nurses know all the things they do.”
To promote awareness of the power behind the compassion, photographers Jen Foster, Donovan Roberts Witmer and Jeremy Hess of The Premise Studio in Lancaster, Pa., spent two days taking photos of nurses in the MIMCU and MICU of Hershey Medical Center.
The result is “Carry the Day: The Power of a Nurse”—starkly raw and emotionally real images of nurses demonstrating poise under pressure, pairing skill with hope in each critical and quiet moment of care.
Watch a video for National Nurses Week featuring the photos and see the Medical Center’s Flickr page below.
There’s MICU registered nurse Laura Waligora, choreographing care for her patient suffering with end-stage fibrosis. There is no cure, but there is still quality of life to preserve.
“This felt like a normal day to me,” she said simply about the day of the photo shoot when she was coordinating therapy and treatments with the rest her patient needed to preserve his limited energy.
There’s MIMCU registered nurse Jessica Eyer, facing a busy day of assignments but choosing to focus first on her patient.
“I may not always look good on ‘paper’ in terms of being caught up with my charting, but my goal is to be there for the patients for moral support, encouragement, addressing pain needs and doing my best to make them happy,” she said.
There’s Mackenzie Bosse, MICU registered nurse, looking into the eyes of her patient—a quadriplegic from a young age—and seeing the person behind the medical condition. His positive attitude gives her day a lift.
Being able to enter the rooms of patient after patient with a smile and a positive word, even when the prognosis is grim or the task at hand will bring pain, takes teamwork. Bosse credits both the senior nurses and new nurses in the MICU with inspiring her. Each brings a valuable perspective and mutual support, she said.
“For a while, I have wanted to do a photo journalistic project on nurses to show not so much the comfort but the strength of a nurse,” explained Foster, whose personal appreciation for nurses grew as she spent time among them while her father healed from open heart surgery. “I felt a level of comfort by having a nurse near me or my dad. Until you experience it, you don’t grasp the many aspects of their job.”
Foster mentioned the photo project to her friend Jessica Oehme, a registered nurse in the MIMCU, who told her sister, Jenn Oehme Knepper.
“To have someone outside our profession grasp the full implications of being a nurse, it truly was a gift,” said Knepper, who facilitated connections at the Medical Center to help bring the photographic journal to fruition. “It’s my sincerest hope that we see positive outcomes in how we move the dial on the way the world sees nurses and that we, as nurses, would recognize and honor that special thread that binds us all.”
A facial expression, an affirming word, a squeeze of the hand—small gestures combined with expert knowledge and competency—that “carry the day” for a patient who wonders but has little control over what that day will bring.
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