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'They become your friends' - the long journey of renal nursing

A renal nurses talks about the close bonds she for
Photo: 'They become your friends' - the long journey of renal nursing
When we think about nurses, words like empathy, compassion, hard-working, and dedication may come to mind. But another word is ‘relationships’, which according to one renal nurse, is at the heart of the work she does – and can often span decades of a patient’s life.

“In renal nursing you really get to know your patients and become close to them – more so than a lot of other areas”, said Dr Leanne Brown, a Nephrology Nurse Practitioner in the Cape York Kidney Care Program at Weipa Hospital in Queensland.

“There’s one lady that I see now, and she is the daughter of one of the ladies I looked after in dialysis. So, it's really rewarding when you see the whole journey of the person that you looked after and their family, and you keep those connections going. They become your friends.”
“And I think that's what's satisfying, especially in renal nursing, is when you’re with a patient on a long journey, and you come to understand and appreciate who they are as a person", she told HealthTimes

“By giving a little bit of yourself to them, they give a bit back to you. And it's just as rewarding for you as a person as it is to be a clinician caring for someone.”

“You learn every day from them. You learn ways to communicate, ways to increase your communication, and you learn how to be more empathetic. You just learn strategies every day from people that you look after.”

Dr Brown said that nursing feeds her love of meeting new faces, and learning about their history and what makes them tick.

“I love engaging with different people and actually trying to make an improvement in their health and their life, really.”

“Even if for every five people, I can’t make a huge difference, if I can make a real difference in that one person, that keeps me going.”

As with every other field of nursing, renal care is not without its challenges.

“The biggest challenge is getting people to realize that they need to actively do something about their health, because it’s a long-term goal.”

“They have to see that the changes they make in the present can help them live a long time.”

She says the loss of a patient and the bereavement she sees in her work is also difficult.

“It helps to talk it over with your colleagues, and your friends, and your family. You need to do something for yourself, whether that’s going out, going for a run or bike ride, or getting any form of exercise, because that is good for your mental health.”

“And some of the memories and the traumatic events, they're with you a long time, but it's just learning to deal with it and remembering the good things from it as well, remembering the good parts of caring for the patient before it all became traumatic.”

Dr Brown said that anyone looking to get into renal nursing needs to be open to truly investing in themselves and their nursing.

“You have to completely invest yourself in it, because it's long-term nursing.”

“This isn’t short term, episodic care, it's chronic care and it's done over a long period of time.”

“If you want to get to know people and become part of their family and part of their lives and their journey, then renal nursing is really, really rewarding.”

“But you definitely have to give a bit of yourself”, she said.

“I think in different areas of nursing, some nurses just like to work and do their job and turn off, whereas renal nursing, you see them on the weekends, and you do all sorts of stuff with your patients.”

“With your patients, you become a part of each other’s lives, so if that's the type of nursing you want to do, then renal nursing is the place to be.”

Dr Brown said that her work in renal care has starkly highlighted the severity of the chronic disease burden in Australia.

“I think we need to start early and do more education during the primary school years.”

“For example, a lot of the kids know not to drink soft drinks, but the problem is then their family still buys them soft drinks. Or they know not to drink or smoke, but the family still smokes around them and they end up getting pressured as they get older.”

“But I think there needs to be more investment in health promotion, more investment in primary care, rather than all the investment into their health to tertiary care, when it's too late and they end up on dialysis – and dialysis is $85,000 a year.”

“We keep throwing money at dialysis, but we're not throwing enough money at health promotion and health prevention.”

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte is a published journalist and editor, with 10 years of experience in developing high-quality content for national and international publications.

With an academic background in both science and communications, she specialises in medical and science writing. Charlotte is passionate about creating engaging, evidence-based content that equips the community with important information on issues around healthcare, medicine and research.

Over the years, she has partnered with organisations including the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council NSW, Bupa, the Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Dementia Australia, MDA National, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal government agencies, to produce high-impact news and clinical content  for different audiences.