The Attention Of Reason And Will

So the good nurse will not consider her work done when she has diverted

mental processes into channels of co-operation. When the patient, who is

capable of reasoning, knows the why of his treatment, and realizes that

he can only keep well as he himself takes over the job and puts his mind

on things outside of his feelings, and carries out the doctor's

instructions for the sake of securing a certain end--then he has been

under a good nurse. This wise helper never "preaches," but makes the

healthy goal very desirable, stirs up an ambition to attain it, and

prods the will to keep on after it despite anything feeling may say.

This attitude on the part of the nurse presupposes that her own

attention, while with her patient, is upon him and upon securing his

health, and not upon her tiredness, or boredom, or headache, or the

party tonight, or the man who has asked her to go to the theater with

him tomorrow. She, surely, must learn to direct her thoughts where

reason suggests, and to gain new interests through willed attention, or

as a nurse she is less than second rate. Nor can she get the best

results until she can turn with a single mind to the patient at hand as

the immediate problem to be solved. And probably neither nurse nor

doctor does any better service, except in saving life itself, than in

keeping the patient from thinking constantly of himself and his ills.

For it seems of little use to have made some people physically well, if

they are to carry through prolonged years the curse of constant

self-attention, self-centeredness, an ingrowing ego.

There are a few simple laws of the mind hinging upon attention which are

today being impressed upon teachers in every department, in

kindergarten, public school, college, and university. And they are as

necessary to the nurse as to the teacher. Three of them we have already


1. Attention naturally follows interest.

2. Attention may be held by will where reason directs.

3. New interests grow out of willed attention.

A fourth we shall stress before considering the use the nurse can make

of them:

4. The thing to which our chief attention is given becomes the most

important thing.

Do not contradict this too quickly. Don't say that nursing gets your

chief consideration because it is, of necessity, your profession; but

that you love your music infinitely more, and look forward to that

through all your hours on duty. If this merely proves that music is

distracting your attention, you are doing your nursing as a means, and

not as an end; you give it probably all the attention necessary for good

work, but your real desire is music. Your chief attention is directed

toward that goal. Hence music is to you the most important thing. If

your will is sufficiently trained to keep you from consciously thinking

of it, still you are dreaming of it and working for it. You may make a

very good nurse, but you will never be as excellent a one as the woman

from whom nursing demands first and chief attention.

We sometimes speak of one woman as a born nurse, and say of another,

"She's a good nurse, thoroughly conscientious, but not a natural one

like Miss X." It only means that Miss X's main purpose in life has

always been caring for the sick, while Miss Y's secondary concern is

that. There is a third, however, who may be sidetracked into nursing,

but whose chiefest interest and attention in life has not been so much a

certain profession or accomplishment, but a passion for people, with an

ability to enter into their lives understandingly. She may not care for

nursing in itself. It is only accidental that her thoughts were turned

to it. But her liking for people makes it easier for her to concentrate

attention on the details of nursing, as thereby she is fulfilling her

life's ambition in studying and serving human beings. She may be a real

success if she can only convince herself that this is her forte. If not,

and she dreams of other fields of service, her concentration on the

thing at hand is not perfect enough for her to compete successfully with

the "born nurse."

Whatever it is, the thing that gets our chief attention is the most

important to us. It may be lack of appetite, or pain in the side,

indigestion, general disability, discomfort, the mistreatment we once

received, the mistake we once made, or the sin we committed--whatever it

is that holds our attention, it is the most absorbing and interesting

thing in the universe, though it may be an utterly morbid interest, an

unhappy attention. But it blots out for the time the rest of the world.

A big hint for the nurse exists therein. Let her try in every lawful way

to divert her patient's attention from the disease-breeding stimuli

toward the happy and wholesome ones.

For the nurse herself in the care of patients let us draw some

conclusions from these laws of the mind's working:

1. Have a goal in view for the patient's health of both body and mind.

2. Work toward instilling in your patient a health ambition--a pride in


3. Remember that overcrowding the mind defeats your purpose of making

one clear impression.

4. Win interest by any legitimate means to the next step toward the

goal, and only the next.

5. Work for attention to hopeful, courageous, and happy things.

Let us as nurses remember always that it is for the patient's sake and

not for our own that certain results must be obtained. Our work is

usually in helping the doctor to get the best possibilities out of the

material at hand, and we cannot hope to change the fabric. But we can

help to repair it; we can sometimes influence the color and suggest some

details of the pattern, or assist in the "making over" process; and when

the fabric is substantial and beautiful we may assist in preventing its

marring. So we may help to evolve a body-health and mind-health attitude

from what seemed the wreckage of a disease-accepting mind; or we may

have the great privilege of warding off the disease-accepting attitude.

But always, in all our care of patients, let us not neglect or fail to

use wisely this central fact of psychology; that anything that gains

attention, even for a moment, leaves its impress on the mind; that the

direction of attention determines our general reaction to life.