What makes a great nurse?

What makes a great nurse?

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Leita Cowart
Debbie Almauhy, chief nursing officer at Rockdale Medical Center in Conyers, has a framed poster in her office that reads, “When I grow up I’m gonna be a nurse.”

Nurses aren’t angels, but they may be the closest thing we have in the workplace.

For 12 of past 13 years, nurses have topped the Gallup Poll of the most trustworthy professionals. Patients and their families know why.

While doctors diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication, surgery or other treatment, it’s often nurses who explain medical procedures, help manage symptoms, respond to emergencies, listen to family concerns, allay patient fears, soothe worries and find ways to make difficult situations bearable.

A nurse’s mission is not only to save lives, but to promote and preserve quality of life.

“The basis of great nursing is caring, but it’s bigger than that,” said Deborah Almauhy, chief nursing officer at Rockdale Medical Center in Conyers. “It’s a commitment to a lifestyle, not just a 12-hour job at a hospital.

“I’m a nurse at every family picnic, neighborhood gathering and kids’ ballgame. I’m a nurse when friends are sick and [when] parents get older and turn to you for help. Nursing is a part of my protoplasm.”

While caring is an integral component of nursing, today’s focus on evidence-based practice, ongoing research and continuous technological advances make a passionate commitment to learning just as essential, Almauhy said.

Almauhy’s career plans were set when she was in preschool, as a poster in her office confirms. It shows the face of a young girl with the words, “When I grow up I’m gonna be a nurse.”

For more than 20 years, Almauhy has worked in urban emergency, trauma and burn centers, as well as serving as a nurse in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

“I can’t even begin to put into words how much I have loved being a nurse,” Almauhy said. “It has been an indescribable career.”


Elaina S. Hall, director, Grady Burn Center, Grady Health System

“Every great nurse I know has the following characteristics: caring nature, detail-oriented, emotionally stable, great judgment, physical endurance and extraordinary communication skills.

“In today’s health care environment, nurses must be ready to complete a comprehensive physical and mental assessment of a patient. He or she must have a comprehensive knowledge of infection control, body mechanics, genitourinary issues and an endless list of quantitative and qualitative measures of a patient’s well-being.

“She must do all this and, of course, smile and help achieve organizational patient-satisfaction metrics. A great nurse can do all these things and still love her job!”


Carol Danielson, senior vice president and chief nurse executive, Gwinnett Health System

“What makes a great nurse? Two words come to mind: competent and compassionate. A competent nurse is a skilled and knowledgeable expert for the patient [and] who is trusted to always do the right thing. A compassionate nurse is sympathetic to another’s misfortune.

“A great nurse empathizes with the patient and family and is able to consistently convey a complete understanding and knowledge of what they are experiencing, along with a strong conviction of wanting to help. These qualities combined result in the ultimate bond between patient and nurse — one of trust, understanding and advocacy.”


Susan Grant, chief nurse executive, Emory Healthcare 

“I spent a summer in college working as a nursing assistant and discovered that I loved connecting and being present with my geriatric patients. I thought, ‘This is me, this is who I am.’

“I felt compassion for them and that they needed an advocate. I think it’s critical for a nurse to really know herself. Nursing requires a lot of self-awareness. It’s not a job; it’s about who you are and how you relate to other people.

“A great nurse is someone who is a good partner. She partners with her patients and families, not with the goal of making them dependent, but of fostering empowerment. Her role isn’t to do things to them or for them, but to strengthen them through the healing process.

“It takes skill, a sharp intellect, self-knowledgeempathy and compassion to be a great nurse.

“I have the privilege of leading other nurses. People think of a chief nurse executive as a big job, but the big job is taking care of patients at the bedside. Seeing what our nurses do inspires me every day.”


Victoria Alberti, manager, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia Breast Center

“Great nurses are born, not made. They have an innate gift of unconditional compassion and a relentless determination to alleviate suffering.

“Providing strength in a patient’s time of weakness and going beyond the call of duty to bring a smile to his face — that is the role of a great nurse.

“But more importantly, great nurses are medical advocates for their patients.”


Sheyla Desir, nurse manager, acute care services, Atlanta VA Medical Center

“The technology has changed and our patients have more complex illnesses, but the one thing that hasn’t changed since Florence Nightingale started the profession is caring. A great nurse sees the patient, not the tubes. She sees someone who could be her mother, her father or her child, and she cares for them as if it were so.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some great nurses teach me, nurture me and take me under their wings to guide me into the profession. I’ve learned that a great nurse takes care of her patients, her fellow nurses and her whole organization.”


“Great nurses, regardless of whether they work in clinical practice, education, administration, research or other areas, all possess three qualities or essences. These are:

“1. Passion: Their passion for excellence in all they do can be seen and felt by others.

“2. Pride: They take immense pride in being a nurse and in honoring the heritage and legacy of a caring profession.

“3. Presence: Great nurses communicate with — and from — a profound depth and quality of presence. They are committed to ‘being with’ and ‘being there’ with patients and clients.”


Karen B. Seagraves, program director, Marcus Stroke& Neuroscience Center, Grady Health System

“When I think of what makes a great nurse, I’m reminded of the quote from Mahatma Gandhi: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ A great nurse has to be selfless.

“When I’m hiring new nurses, I never look for someone who is going to just do her 12-hour shift and go home. Great nurses are committed to making their environment a place for healing. That may mean serving on committees, doing research, educating and listening to families.

“A great nurse cares about every nurse, every patient and everyone who comes through the door, not just her shift or her patients. She’s going to look at the whole patient and the whole family situation. She can’t just say, ‘Here’s the medication the doctor prescribed’ and send someone home, knowing that patient can’t afford to fill it.

“She will use her critical-thinking skills to improve the outcomes of patients. That’s what makes it a profession, not just a job.”


Karen San Filippo Wiggins, charge nurse, Lawrenceville VA Community Outpatient Clinic, Atlanta VA Medical Center

“A great nurse has to be so many things. She’s a facilitator, a student who is always learning, a mediator, an organizer, a communicator and a keeper of the peace, sort of like a mom. But above all, she has to love caring for people. All great nurses need to have that feeling and carry it with them always.

“Honesty is a big part of it. You have to be honest with yourself that this is what you want to do. It’s not about the money or glory. You’re there to listen to heartache and to try to alleviate pain.

“When your patients look into your eyes, they should see that you want to love and care for them. The rewards will come from that. This is a profession that will always fill your heart.”


Kim Bentley, executive director of patient care services, DeKalb Medical, Hillandale

“The most important thing a great nurse needs is compassion. She has to be able to empathize with her patients so that she can be their advocate. Compassion and advocacy go hand-in-hand.

“Nurses are the last line of defense for patients who often aren’t strong enough to advocate for themselves. It’s up to her to make sure that they are safe and receive the most appropriate level of care.

“That’s nursing in a nutshell.”

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