It was my sophomore year of college and we were heading into the hospital for the first time. We had been learning about communication and practicing with one another and now it was time to meet a REAL LIVE patient and use our skills. I was so nervous!
I realize now what this first encounter meant to me. I wanted my first official interaction with a patient to be a positive experience. I had already had some doubts about nursing as a career choice (you can read a little about that in Is Nursing Really For Me?) and thought that this experience would give me some insight if this path was indeed the right one for me.
Another thing that I realize now, was that I wouldn’t be just talking as a friend, daughter, sister, or student – roles that I was familiar with. This was new territory and this patient would look to me for answers and support. My role as a nurse was beginning and this patient would trust me to say and do the right thing.
Despite my nerves, I remember wondering (and being a little impatient about) why we weren’t doing real nursing things when we went to the hospital. I know now that communicating with patients is real nursing. Making that human connection is a big part of what makes us different from other disciplines in health care. Think about how you communicate with patients, their family members and caregivers, and other healthcare providers. Think about how others communicate with you? Any differences?
I like to think that since becoming a nurse, I’ve become a better communicator. I try to consistently think before speaking. I work hard to really listen to others rather than thinking about what I’ll say next when someone else is talking to me. When a difficult conversation is taking place, I think back to the communication strategies that I learned during those first years of nursing school. I also try to pay attention to my own nonverbal cues and those of others.
Have your communication skills and strategies changes since becoming a nurse? How so?
For those of you who follow me on twitter, you know that I try to write a daily nursing tip. Sometimes, these tweets generate discussion. One tip in particular that seemed to get people talking was this:
“Don't palpate both carotid arteries at the same time or press too firmly; pt could faint or become bradycardic.”
I did ponder posting this one, because really – don’t all nurses know this already? But then I got to thinking – did I know this already as a nursing student? As a new nurse? When did I learn this?
It’s been a while since I was in nursing school, but I do remember learning a lot about nursing theory, even more about care plans, and of course, I’ll never forget the steps of the nursing process (assess, diagnose, plan, implement, evaluate!) I can’t deny that all of these things built the foundation of my nursing knowledge. But what isn’t clear to me is when the clinical skills and knowledge became ingrained in my brain – when I learned how to calculate a dopamine infusion to maintain someone’s systolic blood pressure above 85 mmHg, when I learned to approach a family about end-of-life issues, or how I learned to prioritize the needs of critically ill patients. When did these things happen?
In 1984, Patricia Benner published From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice. In her landmark work, the author describes nurses as going through five stages of development – novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert – with each stage building upon the knowledge and skills of the previous one. Think of your own experiences – where do you fit in this model? How will you get to the next level?