“Be Present, Not Perfect:” Communication Essentials for Nurses

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So many times people naturally devalue the conversations we have and think it’s all about the procedures and the actions,” Elaine Meyer, RN and co-founder of the Institute for Professionalism & Ethical Practice, said during a recent TED talk. In fact, it is often a mixture of practicality and personalization that will truly help the infirmed (and their families) get through a difficult time. Meyer has worked for many years with the idea that nurses have to be “present, but not perfect.” This means that nurses should provide the very best support they can in any given situation, without putting pressure on themselves to be flawless problem-solvers.

Often times after completion of nursing courses, you will be called upon to provide comfort to a fearful patient or their grieving loved ones. Though not necessarily part of your job description, confronting emotional pain is unavoidable in a clinical setting. The following tips can help prepare all nurses and medical support professionals to respond compassionately to a range of emotionally complex scenarios.

Nursing Communication

During your online nursing program, you will familiarize yourself with the basic fundamentals of communication with patients and family members. Often, nurses speak with people in varying degrees of duress. At times like this, it is important to speak slowly and clearly. Avoid overcomplicating the conversation with slang, and remember that stressing important points with body language will aide in communication.

Most importantly, stopping to listen is necessary not only to make sure that your message has been understood, but also to gauge how to further proceed with the patient.

Compassion Can Come From the Smallest of Gestures

While working on LPN programs or later in a nursing capacity, you will no doubt come face to face with a personal situation to which you can relate. Every nurse was a patient at one time or another, or watched a friend or family member undergo medical treatment. Empathizing with their patients, nurses can draw on personal experience to guide their supportive gestures. A small, human conversation away from medical or procedural jargon can be incredibly comforting to people dealing with hardship and loss.

In her TED talk, Meyer related a personal experience during a miscarriage in which only a few of her caregivers offered any compassionate support. She recalls that one nurse offered the simple gesture of a comforting hand on her shoulder during a frightening procedure – and this small kindness still remains with Meyer to this day. It’s important to remember that although you may not be able to resolve a patient’s distress, there are definitely ways in which nurses can gently reassure patients who are afraid and in pain.

One Room Schoolhouse

Meyer often works with actors coached by family members and patients to assist young RNs in compassionate roleplaying. She refers to these collaborative “personal talk” sessions as a “One Room Schoolhouse” approach to building effective communication skills. Practice, she says, makes one better – not perfect.

Such roleplaying and discussions with former patients can help nurses choose their words a little more carefully, and customize their responses to various scenarios. If they are speaking to a young child, for instance, they may decide not to call it a “stretcher”, but rather a “bed with wheels on it.”

What really resonates with and stays with people most, are the words and gestures of compassion offered during times of great personal tragedy.

What do you think is the most crucial part of communicating compassionately as a nurse?

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