Both nurse leaders and educators need to teach and model not only day-to-day nursing skills but the importance of connecting with their patients. In today’s often-chaotic healthcare environment nurses are bogged down with so many tasks that we, as nurses, forget to simply ask, Who are our patients?
This is a broader question than the standard questions such as what are their diagnoses, what tests are ordered, and what medications do they need. We also need to ask: Who is my patient? What was my patient’s life before his or her medical diagnosis and what are my patient’s beliefs, dreams, and ambitions?
One day while teaching nursing students at a subacute care facility, I saw four women in wheelchairs gathered at the end of the hallway. Noticing that they seemed bored, I walked over to start a conversation that would provide the opportunity to get to know these patients while my students were preparing for their postconference report. During our conversation, I asked, “If you could go back in time and be any age, what age would you want to be?” (I’m not sure what made me think of that question. It may have been sparked by watching them sitting silently in a facility where they would most likely remain for the rest of their lives.)
Surprisingly, the responses were similar, which led me to ask yet another question, “Why did you choose that age?” Again there were similar responses. I realized this was a good opportunity to show students that practice often provides ideas for research.
As part of a pilot study, I asked the same two questions of 32 patients ranging from 66 years to 100 years old. A total of 11 men and 21 women answered both questions. The mean age patients wanted to be if they could go back in time was 27 and the medium age chosen was 21. Three of the 32 patients answered that they were happy at the age they were now and would not want to go back to any particular age.
Thirteen (11 women and 2 men) out of the 32 patients answered the reason they chose a certain age to go back to was due to the fact they had met or married their spouse at that age. Other responses to this question included being young, in school, had fun, good time in life, working, dating, bought a car, traveled, and having children.
When I asked these two simple questions, I noticed that patients were eager to participate and happy to see that I was interested in more than their medical diagnosis. It was as if there was a brief escape from having to focus on the medical side of things and to reflect on perhaps a better time in their lives.
As nursing educators, we need to understand that even though the role of the nurse and healthcare in general is changing, our patients continue to need nurses who are caring and compassionate, nurses who are willing to ask: “Who is the patient I am caring for?” “What is unique to this person?” “How can I make a difference in their lives?” We need to remember that our patients are more than their disease, medications, and treatments. Patients often feel as though who they are is no longer relevant. As nurses we need to be sensitive and knowledgeable that this is only a small part of who our patients are and as nursing educators it is important we model this philosophy to our students.
Maureen Kroning is an associate professor of nursing at Nyack College in Nyack, New York.
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