Starting his career in caregiving as an orderly at a hospital in 1986, Jonathan Bartels, RN, was exposed to people who needed help, people who felt alone, and people at the end of their lives. As he began his formal nursing career, he worked as a nurse in acute care settings, intensive care units and the emergency room. The hospital is where he had his first experience of loss.
After losing a patient, caregivers are understandably sad, frustrated and upset, yet they must quickly move on to care for their next patient. Jonathan realized that in that first moment after a death, there is a need to preserve the humanity of that person and to provide some sense of closure for the caregivers. In his role as an emergency trauma nurse at the University of Virginia Health System, Jonathan created “The Pause” as a way of ritually marking the death of a patient by taking a moment for silent reflection after their passing. Both the patient’s caregivers and family members are invited to participate. Jonathan says, “This practice brings back the humanity that has somehow been lost in the technology of modern medicine.”
One colleague says, “I’ve heard amazing feedback from families who may be in the room after a code. They are very grateful to have their family member acknowledged as a person; it is an important memory for them to be able to hold on to.” Since its inception, The Pause has spread throughout the entire UVA Health System. The program has spread organically both nationally and internationally, in hospitals from Texas to Connecticut, and even in places as far as Ireland and Australia.
“I have been privileged to sit at Jonathan’s side as we see patients and families together. I marvel at his ability to connect and care for families in using so few words, but in listening and in truly being present. He knows no barriers in caring for people of all ages, cultures, orientations, or backgrounds, for he speaks a universal language of caring and compassion.”
Beyond his creation of The Pause, Jonathan also practices compassion in his everyday work as a palliative care nurse. He has sat bedside with families as patients were taken off life support, helping support and explain the dying process. One patient’s family member said, “Once my husband had made the decision to stop life support, Jonathan came alongside us and made himself into a kind of handrail that we could hold onto. He was a guide and a friend.”
He comforted an elderly cancer patient who loved jazz by playing Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” by his bedside. This patient’s son recalls, “He really cared about my dad and me. That level of nursing practice is beyond caring–or perhaps it’s simply a different level of caring. The connection he made with my father and me was both professional and personal, sincere and genuine.”
Jonathan is also an original team member in the Compassionate Care initiative at the University of Virginia School of Nursing. This initiative looks to help promote and educate nursing students, nurses, medical students and physicians in practices that promote both resiliency and compassionate care. Jonathan has served as an educator, ambassador and resiliency retreat facilitator for the School of Nursing and the University of Virginia since 2008.
When asked about his work, Jonathan says, “Compassionate care is the willingness to stand with another being in a shared experience. It is the desire to hold space with another and be fully present. No matter how challenging the circumstance, you do not look away or turn your back. Compassionate care is born out of a genuine desire to serve without the desire to be rewarded for the service. It comes from the interconnectedness we all share in just being alive.”