I recently started working in a community clinic serving low-income patients. Before this, most of my clinical work had been in intensive care and medical/surgical units. Although as a hospital nurse I wanted to do more patient teaching about health maintenance, I had little time for it. The fast and furious pace in acute care left precious little time to cover wellness issues.
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Yet the state of health care today is such that patients rely more and more on nurses for guidance. Without our influence, many people revert to outdated health practices and risky behaviors. But overwhelming them with complex information could cancel out the educational benefits.
A basic rule of teaching is to communicate on the learner's level. This month's article on West Nile virus (on page 64) is a good example. Like other teaching aids in the Nursing2005 Patient Education series, it's written at a fifth-grade reading level so most people can understand it easily. Regardless of where you work or how busy you are, you can use it to give patients a quick lesson. To reinforce your teaching, give them a copy to take home for later reference. We're committed to patient teaching and proud that the American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors gave our patient-education series its 2005 gold award for best regular department.
When your lessons on health promotion, disease prevention, and health care get through to a patient, you may indeed be changing the direction of her life. But how will you know if you never see her again?
Take it from me, patients are listening. One of the joys of my work in the clinic is that I see firsthand the rewards of patient teaching. When someone who's newly diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes returns for checkups and steps off the scale with a proud smile, I know she's been following my recommendations about diet and exercise.
No matter where you practice, patients look to you for information and advice. If you work in an acute care setting, you may not always witness how your teaching affects patients. But that doesn't mean they're not taking your words to heart. Trust me, you're making a difference.
Cheryl L. Mee, RN, BC, CMSRN, MSN