In Nursing, Pay It Forward

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN

Nurses Week, which is just around the corner, is a time when we nurses receive special recognition and treatment for all the great work we do and for the difference we make 365 days a year. And while we’re accustomed to having others do nice things for us that week, it’s also a good time for us to do nice things for each other — and start a chain reaction in the process.

In case you didn’t read Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde or see the movie of the same name, the concept is simple: Commit random acts of kindness for others without wanting or expecting anything in exchange — and ask that person to do the same for another. In other words, rather than expect to be “paid back” for a favor or a kindness, ask the person you do something nice for to pass it on or “pay it forward” to someone else. The belief is that your actions will have a ripple effect and that the world will be a better place for it. Hyde believes that being nice is the secret to lifelong success.

The concept sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet so many of us are so stressed, overwhelmed, overscheduled, and overburdened that we barely have time to talk to or acknowledge other people in our lives, never mind being nice to them. Doing good can take some energy and effort at first. It can even seem like a foreign concept to some of us. But being nice to others, being kind and generous, can easily become a way of life — a mindset — once you try it. Besides, it’s guaranteed to make you feel better about yourself.

The concept of paying it forward goes beyond simply being nice and treating others well; that should be a standard of human behavior. Paying it forward takes it one step further by doing something for someone that you wouldn’t normally do. It’s going above and beyond. In the movie, one person gives a car to another person; another person sets up an elaborate scheme to bring two people together. But it really doesn’t have to be something grandiose or expensive to make a difference.

Here are a few suggestions on how to pay it forward to your nursing colleagues and coworkers:

Buy a book for a new graduate on your unit. Choose one that helped you or that you think would be helpful to that person.
Bring flowers in for the unit clerk.
Write notes to your coworkers telling them how much you enjoy working with them and at least one thing that you especially like about them.
Bring in a latte for a coworker.
Treat a colleague to lunch while at work.
If you notice someone’s having a bad day, go out of your way to help the person with patient care duties or with a project he or she is working on.
Answer a call light for another nurse.
Make a donation to Nurses House ( or another worthy organization in honor of a colleague or coworker.

Afterward, if someone thanks you or says “I appreciate what you did,” say “It was my pleasure — my Nurses Week gift to you. I ask only that this week, you do something special in return for another nurse or coworker — or anyone, for that matter.” And if you’re someone who regularly does these things for others (and there are plenty who do), get in the habit of asking others to pay it forward. Good acts, kindness, and thoughtfulness inspire and encourage more good acts. Take the extra step to encourage others to follow suit by encouraging them to pay it forward in every area of their lives.

“You have to be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi once said. If you start treating your coworkers extraordinarily well, your efforts will have a ripple effect that has the potential to start a positive chain reaction at your workplace, in your profession, and in your personal life. And although the concept of paying it forward does not seek rewards for the do-gooder, what goes around comes around. If you send positive thoughts and deeds out into the universe, they’ll come back to you tenfold.

I challenge you to go out of your way during Nurses Week to do at least three extra-special things for coworkers that you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Then email me at to tell me what you did and what resulted. Let’s make this Nurses Week the beginning of the “Pay It Forward” movement in nursing.

Information on the “Pay It Forward” movement is available at The site also includes individuals’ stories.

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