No matter whether you are a patient or a relative – sometimes you want to say thank you to nurses and carers; the ones who take or took good, professional care of yourself or your loved ones. But how? Here are some ideas.

I know from personal experience – as a cancer survivor as well as a family member and relative of my increasingly frail grandparents, who suffered from a multitude of illnesses in their last years and lived in a care home – how absolutely essential professional and humane care is, how much of a difference it can make.

This blogpost contains:

  1. My personal experience as a relative
  2. What nurses and carers want and need
  3. How to say thank you to nurses and carers
Thank you nurses and carers
Thank you nurses and carers | © J. Wagener

1. My experience

After my grandma had passed away in 2016, it became even more important that my bedridden grandpa, who would pass away only seven months after his wife, would receive outstanding care. We had to rely on it, we had to be able to trust the nurses and carers.

On some days, he even managed to tell me about it – in spite of his dementia. „Today there was a nurse in my room. I didn’t know her but she said she would know me“, he told me on the phone on the wall next to his bed. It was a day, I remember, when his Parkinson-induced mumbling was a tad stronger than usual. And I was, as always, glad when he could narrate a longer, coherent story.

„She is from upstairs or something, I don’t really know. However, she said that she would know me. And then she came to my bed and put her cheek against mine.“

My heart briefly slipped towards my stomach. This tiny, loving gesture must have made him happy; otherwise he wouldn’t have remembered this episode, let alone told me about it. And that, in return, made me very happy.

Besides professionalism, it is these small things that make a big difference. And they are by no means a matter of course.

A huge number of nurses and carers in hospitals and care homes are looking after the sick, the infirm, the elderly, humans in need. They hold hands, they feed, they listen, they shoulder massive responsibility, and most of all, they do highly professional work. Each and every day, on weekends, on holidays. Always.

Thank you to nurses and carers

In 2014, when both my grandparents were still alive, I wrote a blogpost about why I think that a thank you to nurses and carers is important. This holds still true and it cannot be repeated often enough.

„I don’t want to bake cookies anymore!“ My grandma resolutely adjusts her glasses. „And from now on, I will only do what I want do. There you have it!“ I truly appreciate Omis new boundaries. After all, she has spent all her life taking care of other people’s needs with a wide open heart and would have almost vanished in the process herself. But right now, it’s not just about cookies. It’s about expressing gratitude.

Since July, grandpa has been in the care home and I think it would be a lovely idea to say thank you to all the people who take care of him day and night. He is not an agreeable character, he never was. He struggles to express his feelings; he often doesn’t even know what he is feeling. That is something many men of his generation – born in the 1930s, growing up during the WWII – have in common. The war has left their hearts withered. Otherwise, they would have perished. He doesn’t make compliments, he rarely says thank you. His tonality is sparse and commanding. He never revels is tales of the aulden times. He is none of those jocose, jovial, and sweet grandfathers one sees in the candy commercials.

My grandpa is a toothless, wizened, tiny human in diapers, from which a urine tube protrudes. He is scared, confused, and impatient. In the past, many years ago, he used to love singing and telling jokes. But Parkinson’s disease has swallowed his voice, dementia has gobbled his humor. Mostly.

Although he is unintentionally often more than a handful, the nurses and carers are kind to him. „Common, let’s dance tango!“ says the intern, when he helps grandpa getting out of his bed and onto the toilet chair right next to it. The new girl gently strokes his feet when she brings him his dinner. The other carer never gets tired of playing Ludo with him. The tall one stays calm and collected when grandpa gets upset and doesn’t understand the context of the situation. And the senior nurse always has an open ear for our endless questions.

Of course it’s not perfect. And how could it be? The staffing level is stretched thin, the wages are miserable, the work is extremely demanding, there’s never enough time. Things go wrong, pills are forgotten, catheter bags or toilet buckets not emptied. An apple for the toothless.

And still. It’s those small gestures that make my grandpa’s last days more livable. A smile, a few soothing words, a kind tucking-in, a hand in another.

This, therefore, goes out to all nurses and carers, doctors, and therapists – not only in my grandpa’s home, but everywhere in the world:

Without you, our society would collapse. You – with your professionalism and commitment – are unspeakably important for the very fabric of society. So thank you. Thank you for every loving gesture, for every extra-minute, for every comfort, and for your all your energy-sapping, knowledge-requiring, important, magnificent work.

I take my grandma’s hand and smile. „Okay, here’s a suggestion: I bake and you give me instructions. You know, I believe they would be quite happy to get some nice, homemade cookies. A little thank you to nurses and carers would surely do now harm.“

She looks at me and says: „Well, they are indeed all really lovely with him. I have to admit that.“

And suddenly, grandma changes her mind and does want to bake cookies once more.

Grandma died in September 2016 and grandpa followed her in April 2017.

[Read also: When someone you love dies]

In spite of occasional problems with communication, I knew they were in good hands. That’s why I still say thank you to nurses and carers from the bottom of my heart. <3

2. What nurses and carers really want

Expressing gratitude by saying thank you to nurses and carers is one thing, true appreciation for their profession is another. That is why I used my twitter account @die_Enkelin to explicitly ask people working in that field what they themselves need and want.

Better payment:

In general, jobs with that amount of responsibility, stress, and expertise require much better wages. Or at least they should. But most people I asked also talked about extra compensation for stepping in on short notice and higher shift allowances, especially for night shifts. One idea: extra-incentives for particularly good care. Creating specific incentives was a point that many considered important.

Education and training:

Continuous training for nurses and carers who have been on the job for many years; improvement of the conditions of qualification, apprenticeships, or initial training – apprentices should not replace fully trained nurses and carers. On top of that, many pointed out mandatory training for managers as well as better development opportunities and perspectives. Overall, many nurses and carers in Germany would appreciate a clearer regulation of education and training by law.

Higher regard and esteem:

Moving away from medical assistance to a more independent profession with its own specialisation and responsibilities. And: The representation in the media should shift from solely telling horror stories to showing the wonderful stories that are plentiful but obviously less shocking and therefore not as relevant for clicks or buyers.

Less bureaucracy, more technology:

For example: Taking the paper out of the paperwork by using tablets with touchscreens instead. Or using robots to help monitor critical patients or those with dementia as well as for lifting and mobilisation. In addition, improving and simplifying the cooperation between hospitals and care homes. In conclusion: push for digitisation.

Better working hours and more personnel:

Clear responsibility for a manageable number of patients, not constantly having to change wards, not more than five patients at a time – instead of 100 at night. A reliable roster or rota system which enables nurses and carers to plan a month ahead. Not having to step in all the time because of staff shortage. Concessions regarding childcare or better part-time or general working-hour models would be incredibly helpful. Furthermore, many consider the retirement age of 67 in care absolutely grotesque. Which is why nurses and carers should retire after 40 to 45 years, with 60 at the latest. Above all, no more temporary workers in such a complex field, but rather assistant nurses and carers who help with simple tasks.

In conclusion:

Cookies, gratitude, and kind words are important and nice. However, it would be even more important and nice to take the jobs of nurses and carers more seriously and to see them for what they really are: highly specialised professionals working under extremely challenging conditions with a lot of strain and huge responsibilities. And, of course, finally changing the circumstances and conditions of work, education, and perspectives of nurses and carers.

3. This is how everyone can say thank you to nurses and carers

Neither of those aspects lies within the power of patients and relatives. However, sometimes they might still want to express gratitude and say thank you to nurses and carers for particularly great work. Which is why I asked people working in this field what would make them happy and bring them a bit of joy.

Here is what they replied.

Because of the immense pressure and the constant lack of time in the intensive care unit, candy and chocolate are very popular:

Furthermore, nothing tops the tangible, living proof of success. Meaning: a patient is getting better. Often, however, nurses and cares don’t witness that. It is therefore a great idea just to come around and say hello and thank you in person.

Very important, too: clear, good communication and cooperation between patients, relatives, nurses, and carers – for everyone.

Ich freue mich zwar über Kuchen, Pralinen, etc. von Angehörigen, allerdings ist das alles nicht so viel wert wie gute Zusammenarbeit. Bin im palliativen Kinderbereich und es ist so wichtig, dass Absprachen klappen und man sich gegenseitig vertraut. Mehr ist gar nicht nötig. ❤️
— ☘️ (@nasimann) May 27, 2019

Also, an honest, authentic, heartfelt praise is always welcome and appreciated.

And what’s great – when possible – a bit of time, maybe with a cup of tea or coffee.

No matter how you decide to do it – whether with cookies, flowers or a card – I think it is important to say thank you to nurses and carers.

Yet it is even more important to improve their working conditions and the general perception of their profession. One day, the life of your loved ones or yourself might depend on them.

PS: I am a freelance writer and student and the maintenance of this wee blog does require a bit of money. Whoever feels inclined to do so could leave me a little writing money. It is greatly appreciated. Thank you – Dankeschön! <3

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