Nursing Is Not Gardening, but You Still Must Tend to the Weeds

Latoya L. Stewart, MSN, RN


May 04, 2022

The days leading up to my last day at work, I was approached by so many coworkers who were shocked and saddened by the news of my departure.

One in particular stood out to me. She was a DAISY Award–winning nurse who prided herself on rallying her teammates even in the most trying situations. She hardly ever called out. She took charge whenever needed. She would come in on her days off and hardly ever complained. She was known to have bumped heads with a supervisor or two, but her heart was mostly in the right place as she advocated for her patients and coworkers. She is what my former predecessor would call a weed.

When I became a head nurse, the outgoing head nurse sat me down and asked me what I would prefer to be in a garden, "an orchid or a weed." I quickly said an orchid. To which she responded, "Orchids are good for gardens but not on a unit."

She went on to explain that there are two types of nurses. One was an orchid, which required lots of care and just the right amount of sunlight and water. You had to make sure the soil was good and that they received lots of your attention. The weed, on the other hand, grew no matter what. Even in difficult situations a weed would find its way through the cracks of concrete and harsh soil.

She then mentioned two nurses on the unit and I was quickly able to see that one was a weed and the other an orchid. The orchid was in the office more often than not, had questions about her assignment, and needed reassurance that she was doing a good job. The weed never made a fuss about her assignment, only entered the office when it was time for vacation requests or evaluations, and overall she went with the flow while shying away from grand gestures of acknowledgment. As a new head nurse, whenever I looked on the schedule and saw a day of weeds, I knew I was in for a smooth day. I quickly learned to never schedule all orchids or I would be on my toes all day.

Two days before my last day, I bumped into this award-winning nurse in the hallway. We spoke briefly about my decision to leave, and then her voice cracked. I was shocked to see that she had tears in her eyes. I pulled her into the break room and she expressed how my time as her director allowed her to feel seen.

She mentioned leaders before me that treated her as a "workhorse" and that her presence on the unit during times of shortage was an expectation without gratitude.

You see, what I learned over the years was that even weeds need attention.

They need acknowledgment and a genuine concern for their overall well-being. I knew that if calling her to come in would make it her fourth night in a row, I wouldn't do it. I learned through past experience that simple 5-minute chats in my office took away the feeling of dread that some nurses had of management and allowed the opportunity to get to know my staff. It was in those moments of speaking with her that I realized how dynamic this nurse was.

During my time with her, she became the first nurse to receive the highest rank on the clinical ladder and won the prestigious DAISY Award. I soon retired those phrases because I grew in my leadership to see how complex each person can be and that a nurse will flourish or deteriorate depending on the environment of the unit or overall hospital.

After speaking with her, I realized that I had forgotten some of my own advice. Whenever a nurse would approach me about possibly leaving the unit, I would remind them that still water can be poisonous and that life requires you to flow with the current. I would talk about growth and change but realized that I feared it. After all these years I was becoming the still waters, thinking leadership was my only option.

I've been asked a lot about what's next, and honestly, I'm not sure. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't the scariest thing I've done in my adult life. But for the time being, I'm going to start taking my own advice and start growing.

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About Latoya L. Stewart
Latoya Stewart is Jamaica-born and New Jersey–raised, this millennial mom of two is navigating her way through middle management while quieting her middle-child syndrome. A graduate of UMDNJ and Rutgers University, she received her bachelor's in journalism, history, and nursing as well as her master's of science in nursing. Like most nurses, she believes she has a heart of gold and the mouth of a drunken sailor. Follow her on Instagram: @mindoftoya


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