Friends who understand: Carrie & Julie

Carole & Julie
We’re celebrating stories of nursing & midwifery friendship. Nurse & Midwife Support’s Carole and her friend Julie share the story of their rewarding friendship.

Photograph of two nurses who are friends

At Nurse & Midwife Support we’re celebrating friendship with a story competition! We would love to hear your story about your supportive nurse and/or midwife friend/s. Share your story to go into the running to win AUD$1000.00 towards a professional development experience and a copy of the 5th edition of Mental Health in Nursing with a chapter devoted to your professional self-care. Learn more about the competition, which closes 31 January 2022.

Our team have been lucky to experience transformative friendships with other clinicians. Nurse & Midwife Support’s Carole and her friend Julie share how their friendship has improved not only their mental health but their clinical practice.

We’ll get through it: Carole’s story

I met Julie about 8 years ago. We were both working in oncology. I can’t remember how our friendship started but I do remember coming to work with a sense of relief thinking Julie’s on today, no matter what happens, we’ll get through it. Nurses who have friends who are nurses know this feeling and the dynamics — a knowing glance or look, a kind or funny word, a sympathetic gesture and a shared bizarre and quirky sense of humour! We instantly get what the other is thinking or feeling. Sharing our thoughts and feelings is immensely comforting and one of the rewards of nursing and helps us not to feel alone. 

As a friend and a nurse, I find Julie’s passion for nursing and professional reflections interesting and motivating. She’s reflective, thoughtful, highly knowledgeable and funny. I have learnt a lot from her. We have a huge amount of trust in each other and are not afraid to share painful vulnerable moments and uncertainties about our work, knowing we won’t be judged harshly and knowing the other has been there — or, at least, somewhere similar. 

That mutual trust and understanding has been a pivotal part of my coping with the demands of my profession. 

We strive to do our best, but we are human. We both work hard to support each other and get that balance right. We both witness grief, death, people at their best and at their worst, and have learned the importance of connecting with someone who gets what we do as nurses and can share and acknowledge those thoughts and feelings. I believe that seeking out and finding nurse or midwife friends who feel the same and understand we need to talk openly and share things makes us better healthier people and clinicians.

Like many nurses, Julie and I share the same ironic sense of humour about life and its challenges. I know after a chat with my friend I leave feeling lighter, uplifted and more balanced. Left to my own devices, I can get caught in traps like toxic perfection, not getting my work/life balance right, isolating myself when I’m stressed about work, and taking myself too seriously … and you cannot laugh alone!

One of the best parts of the friendship is the informal debrief we do at work over a difficult interaction or clinical dilemma. We can be quick to doubt ourselves and even more quick to blame and shame ourselves. Reflecting and being open to understanding ourselves and the people we care for is more beneficials and allow us to learn from a situation rather than feel ‘less than’. I know Julie has been that person for me.

We have a friendship outside of nursing too. We both have the same love of trees, podcasts, reading and TV shows. Julie often greets me with, “I’ve got a book I want you to read…” Getting a good recommendation from Julie about anyone of these things is one of life’s treats. We are good motivator for each other too. We often meet up for coffee and walk together — neither of us are thrilled by exercising alone. 

We also like talking over professional learning opportunities that we’ve been to or watched. I will often make mental note to discuss something I’ve seen or read with her. We both have post grad qualifications in counselling and grief. We talk about those subjects a lot, usually interspersed with general chit chat about other parts of our lives. The easy flow of conversation makes learning from our friendship feel very natural.  

Having a friend who gets you as a person and as a nurse is a fantastic feeling. Sharing a good laugh or a helpful insight on a bad day with Julie definitely helps put everything in perspective. I know some nurses have had difficult or challenging experiences with colleagues in the workplace and may not have the same experience. I encourage them to keep trying to find someone they can connect with. Just finding one nurse friend who truly sees you as a person, points out the positive impact you can, will and do make, and helps support you with laughter, kindness and understanding is healing, confidence-building and can keep you grounded. 

Nursing and midwifery are challenging, demanding and rewarding jobs with unique stresses that are often not fully understood by even our partners, families or close friends. A nurse or midwife who finds friendship with other clinicians can benefit deeply — allowing us to feel better, feel heard and understood. Those friendships are an important part of managing stress in our professional lives and feeling good about ourselves and what we do. 

A friend that gets you: Julie’s story

The first thing I noticed about Carrie was that she was welcoming. When we first met, I had come from what I would describe as a toxic workplace. I’m not sure how the friendship developed specifically, but her welcoming warmth is one of those qualities that is so important in a colleague. It’s always been a part of my value system too.  It made me realise how important an open and welcoming person and organisation is. After my previous experience, I felt safer and much more relaxed. I felt the stress and tension I’d been under dissipate. I felt free to be myself again.

I was an experienced nurse and had never been in a toxic workplace before. The experience had shocked and affected me significantly. Talking and sharing with someone that understood my professional thoughts feelings and vulnerabilities was an important aspect of our friendship. Although we did not discuss my past experiences it definitely helped me get over being in an unsafe environment. It made me realise how important the values of openness and collegiality were to me and I realised that I didn’t want to be an environment like again. It also made me realise the importance of the solidarity of a warm open supportive nursing friendship.

Like Carrie, I love our ‘walk and talk’ discussions about trees, current affairs, politics and our work.  The other thing I value about the friendship is our shared sense of humour and philosophy on life — when you have a nursing friend that gets you, you have safe space and to be open supported and to be your authentic self. 

I think nursing friendships are definitely different from other friendships. We face unique issues in our role and our profession. I have really noticed this since COVID 19. It’s my nursing friends I turn to and most connect with. Sometimes it’s just things like a good belly laugh. You see the absurdity, uncertainty and messiness of life — I think nurses get that, they know how important that shared bond and understanding about the world is.

To do this job well you have to be open to all aspects of life — good and bad — and most importantly be there for each other. It’s a very isolating and negative experience if you don’t. I also believe being there for each other supports us to be there for our patients.  
My nursing friendship with Carrie means I don’t have to wear the mask that many nurses feel that that they have to wear — that mask that says that everything is fine, I am super-human, I can cope with anything without giving it a second thought and a good nurse doesn’t have feelings.  In our friendship, we are both prepared to talk about the things that affect us in our work in a way that only another nurse or peer can. 

In my experience, one of the other important things about nursing friendships that make them unique is that they can be lifelong. Many of us have nurse friends across the lifespan from being young nervous students right through to being highly experienced nurses with lots of roles and responsibilities. We often meet as nursing students and go beyond the boundaries of normal working life; we work together, socialise together and have reunions. During those catch ups we share the history of our lives — personal and professional — and we bear witness to many aspects of changes in ourselves and our nursing friends. This can be comforting, revealing, a great bonding exercise and often hilarious!

I have known Carrie through good and bad times — illness, family concerns and loss. Having important conversations about our work and who we are as people allows us to develop a stronger understanding about ourselves that creates a deep connection in our friendship. Sometimes it can feel like a kind of love for that person you know so well. I know as a person and a nurse these things are important to and I aspire to. I feel grateful immensely for those friendships and connections. 

If you need support

If you need someone to talk to, Nurse & Midwife Support is here. Call us on 1800 667 877 or reach out by email.