Make the Connection

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN

A woman who had written a book about her complete recovery from a devastating stroke was once a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Some of her comments about the nurses she encountered startled and saddened me. But her remarks made me reflect on how I, and each of us, relate to patients.

During the interview, the guest mentioned that while she was bed bound and aphasic, she could sense the energy—both good and bad—of each nurse who entered her room. Some nurses, she noted, would always acknowledge her, even if they just grabbed her toes and gave them a wiggle or offered a greeting. But others came and went without acknowledging her in any way. They did what they needed to do and left the room without a word.

An audience member stood up and talked about going for chemo treatments by herself because her family and friends were too busy. She said she walked in feeling alone, fearful, and anxious, and none of the nurses made eye contact with her or greeted her. She became so choked up while relating her experience that she had trouble getting her story out.

These patient experiences do not necessary reflect on “bad” nurses who don’t care or aren’t competent. Nor do they imply that all nurses do this. They do, however, show a scenario in which some of us — and I’m sure I’ve done this myself — get so caught up in the schedule and tasks we have to perform that we come across as all business. Or, we neglect our own self-care and/or get into a career rut and act and feel more like we’re working on an assembly line than in a healthcare setting.

Sometimes it helps to return to basics to recapture the essence of what nursing is all about: science, caring, and empathy. We all need a reminder every now and then.

In Fundamentals of Nursing, our nursing professors taught us the value and benefit of establishing and maintaining a therapeutic relationship with patients. One of my instructors shared this adage with us students: “Your patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Make sure your patients know how much you care. One of the worst things in the world is when a patient feels invisible, unimportant, unacknowledged, marginalized, or minimized in any way.

So, no matter what setting you work in, greet each patient and his or her family: Make eye contact, smile (if appropriate), and say hello. Introduce yourself by name and title. Let the patient know what role you will play in his or her care, and provide as much information as possible about what’s happening. For example: “My name is Chris Smith. I’m the RN in charge of your care today.” Shake hands (when appropriate) or touch the patient gently.

The TV program served as a gentle reminder to me to be more present in my day-to-day dealings with those I serve. Don’t forget to make the connection with your patients. Caring and empathy are still an integral part of what nurses do. And it doesn’t in any way diminish the science of nursing. Patients may appreciate what we do, but they will never fully realize all that we do for them while they’re in our care. But they will long remember whether or not they felt cared for.

Copyright Donna Cardillo. All rights reserved.

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