1. Hathaway, Lisa RN, MSN

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As I'm sure you're aware, there's a wealth of literature on the topic of listening to your patient, but let's take just a few more minutes to discuss this very important skill.

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I have to say, I love the nursing process. Yes, you heard me right: assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating. Besides using these tools on the job, I think we can utilize them in many areas of our lives. I know I do, from balancing home and work life to writing this editorial. I also think it's important to integrate four of the five senses we all learned in grade school science class into patient assessment. Sight, hearing, touch, and smell-all wonderful assessment tools!!


In our increasingly technological world, it can be exceedingly easy to rely on monitors, but sometimes these machines don't detect subtle changes in your patient. I had a nursing instructor who always said, "Look at your patient." And so I say to you, add listening to your patient to your assessment routine. If we can just actively take the time to really listen, our patients will give us clues as to what's going on with them: how they feel, what they need, and what's concerning them.


Like you, I'm a multitasker. Often I'm preparing dinner or doing something while my daughter is speaking to me and then she asks for feedback or some acknowledgement of what she just said. I've become adept at being able to perceive the correct answer, but am I missing something in the communication? Am I really listening to her? Did I catch the tone and inflection of her voice? Is she happy or sad or anxious? Have I picked up on the subtle clues she's providing?


Many times I've walked into a patient's room with a goal in mind-to give an I.V. medication or take a vital sign-and the patient engages me in a conversation. Sometimes I walk away wondering if I met that patient's needs while I was in the room. After all, that's why I became a nurse.

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Our patients need to interact with us and they need us to listen to them. Some of my best patient interactions have occurred when I was cognizant enough to take the time to really listen. One of the saddest things I hear is when a patient says to me that I'm the first person she has talked with all day or when a patient thanks me for listening to him because he doesn't experience that often. And sometimes listening can be a matter of life and death-when a patient is calling for help or tells you she just doesn't feel right.


Out of all the assessment tools we have at our disposal, take some time to focus on listening. You may just be amazed at what you hear.


As always, e-mail me with your thoughts and comments at And thanks for listening!!


Lisa Hathaway, RN, MSN