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What is Caring?

As a registered nurse, I am often faced with an interesting internal dialogue of how can I provide the best care to this patient? Working in multiple specialty areas, the way in which I best provide care to my patients is varied. 

For example, when I care for a palliative patient, providing care can look like administering medication to reduce suffering, such as high-dose narcotics. As well as taking the time to sit with them and their family while they grieve. Giving space to talk about the meaning of life and providing them a safe space for reflection in their final days. 

When I work with a pediatric population, I have been told the most meaningful act I can do (as per my patients) is to provide “poke prizes” and popsicles. However, their parents may believe I can care for their child best by ensuring I am following sterile precautions and triple-checking my medication to reduce the risk of error. 

When I work with a patient at high risk for suicide, caring may look like physical and pharmacological restraints to ensure that they cannot act on these thoughts. For patients at extremely high risk, caring may be keeping them in the hospital against their will. I know I am taking away your rights; I just want to keep you safe. 

When I am in the trauma room, caring involves doing everything in my power to save my patient’s life. In this instance, caring may involve intraosseous medication, intubation, and CPR, all of which are quite painful in and of themselves. When we leave the trauma room, I have the same patients say that despite all the life-saving measures, the most caring act they experienced was one nurse taking a minute to explain all the chaos around them. 

When I work with patients who use substances, caring may look like providing harm-reduction supplies and ensuring they minimize their risks when using. Caring may be allowing space for patients to make their own decisions despite my personal concerns for their wellbeing. 

When I am working in a busy ER, my acts of caring may be providing a warm blanket or a snack and validating their concerns about the “ridiculously long wait time.” 

When I am working with a pre-operative patient, caring is keeping them NPO to avoid aspiration, despite them stating I am “starving them to death.” I promise I just want you to have the best surgical outcomes. 

When I come home at the end of the day having managed a variety of patient presentations, I, along with other nurses, am often faced with the question, did I provide the best care I could today? And if I’m feeling exceedingly existential, what does it really mean to care? 

From a quick Google search, the definition “feeling or showing concern for or kindness to others” can be found; however, as we all understand, caring is much more complex and multifaceted than a simple definition (Merriam-Webster, 2023, para. 1). How did we learn to care? And how does caring change in the context of dying with a chronic mental health condition? This is the question that prompted our team at the University of Alberta, in collaboration with Health Cities to investigate further. 

Reimaging Caring 

Our research, called Reimaging Caring, explored stories of care with people who live with a chronic and persistent mental illness like schizophrenia and nurses. We used a collective narrative approach to collect and develop stories with each group. , The stories have helped us to better understand what care and caring means to people with lived experience and nurses. The people who shared their stories told us when care made a difference in their lives. From this sharing emerged a desire to have  intentional dialogue about caring, leading to the creation of Caring Cafes!

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What next? Caring Cafes

Caring Cafes is a knowledge translation activity. What this means is that the knowledge we have gained from our research led to the development of the idea for Caring Cafes. We looked at different models where conversation and sharing has been used like World Cafe and Death Cafes. Caring Cafes are an opportunity for people to engage in intentional dialogue about care and caring. Everyone will have the opportunity to explore their experience of caring and being cared for (if they choose to), in a safe and welcoming space. Caring Cafes are informal and the topics of conversation are based on the people who come along and want to share. The University of Alberta and Health Cities are working with Pilgrims Hospice to host Caring Cafes in the near future. If you are interested in engaging in a dialogue about caring, we would love to have you at one of our Caring Cafe’s. If you would like to host a Caring Café please contact us. Stay tuned for further updates as to when and where these conversations are happening and how you can contribute to the conversation about caring. 


Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Caring. In dictionary. Retrieved October 6, 2023, from 

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Author: Nicole Tailby

Nicole is a registered nurse currently pursuing her Master of Nursing at the University of Alberta. When asked by her supervisor about the potential of collaborating with Health Cities, Nicole happily agreed and was excited to take a step away from the bedside to explore other areas of healthcare and health research. Alongside her education, Nicole is working with a team of researchers at the University of Alberta, in collaboration with the Health Cities team, to explore care and caring for those with complex mental illnesses. Through this research, Nicole and her team worked to develop spaces to have intentional conversations about caring, leading to the creation of caring cafes.