The Next Shift is a new series of stories written by experienced RNs to provide advice that can help guide the next generation of nurses. The series is presented by The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future.
As a nurse for 45 years, Ive learned so much more about listening and being compassionate from my patients than I ever learned from classes or conferences. Ive also come to know that communication skills and compassion are just as important as learning to start an IV or insert a Foley catheter.
Its important for all of us to feel heard and understood, and those feelings are multiplied 100-fold when someone is sick and in a strange and scary place like a hospital.
It is hard to remember every incident over the past 45 years when compassion and communication worked hand in hand to improve a patients healing, but one does stand out from the others.Mary Alice Santoro, RN
When I was a young nurse working on a med/surg unit, a woman in her early 40s was admitted after a suicide attempt. When I went into her room to start my assessment, I found my patient crying softly. I put down the paperwork, sat next to her bed and just took hold of her hand. I had no words of wisdom, no clinical insights, I just wanted to be there for her. Then she started to tell me how useless she felt. Her husband was a successful businessman and spent many hours and evenings away from home. Her oldest daughter was a senior at college and her other daughter had just left for college.
She felt she had no skills to get a job after being a stay-at-home mom. Mostly I just listened, but I did point out to her some positive things I noticed in the few minutes I spent with her how articulate she was and how loving a mother and wife she was, and that I believed there was a reason her suicide attempt failed.
The patient later was discharged to a private psychiatric facility. When I said goodbye, she told me she initially was going to refuse further psychiatric treatment but because of our conversation she decided to seek therapy to learn why her suicide attempt failed, why God wanted her to live.
I learned a great deal from this patient the value of just listening, just being present in the moment. By listening, we show patients compassion, and that can help with their healing.
To nurses just beginning your practices, welcome to the profession and remember to really hear what your patients are saying. You will never regret taking the time to listen, and your practice will greatly be enriched.