It’s likely that every nurse who has accumulated a few years of clinical experience can look back on interactions with various medical providers where he or she has gleaned some nuggets of wisdom while working for, or side by side, these providers. I occasionally collected these nuggets the best I could as I busily performed my duties as a new night shift nurse on a med/surg unit, and after two and half years of this, made the transition to home health care. The home health care environment made interactions with providers infrequent and thus, my gold nuggets were few and far between.
A year and a half later, I once again was ready for a change, and became a hospice nurse. Little did I know that I was not just going to get some nuggets, but was going to be entering the gold mine, in the name of Dr. Benjamin Ranck. Dr. Ranck was in the twilight of his career as a hospice physician, but he was clearly committed and passionate about educating staff, patients, and families alike while providing excellent care. I had the distinct honor of working alongside this wonderful man and learning from him for a year; much of what I learned helped mold me into the hospice nurse that I am today. The impetus for this article is one particular thing that he would often say to me. Unfortunately, it took me some time to fully understand and appreciate it.
He would say, “Every day, I learn something from my patients.” This simple, yet profound statement is something I would sometimes hear him say in front of patients and families, and I would wonder if it was meant to be heard by them as a comforting and relationship establishing tool. I don’t think I ever asked Dr. Ranck to explain this statement to me, as I was always so focused on what I had to do next to care for my patients. I certainly wish I had mined that gold further at the time, as I am sure I could have learned so much more from his expounding on the statement.
In the years that have passed though, those words have stuck with me as I have gained more and more clinical experience. I have realized as I speak to my patients and their families that many times I am relying on my clinical experiences from previous patients, giving generalized anecdotes from my previous clinical experiences to help describe what something will be like. In this way, I am learning each day from my patients and filing that away in my mental clinical rolodex to be used at a later time. I realize that the learning I get from my patients goes far beyond the clinical, however, and extends into life lessons. Whether it’s asking patients who have been married five or six decades what they believe is the key to a long and successful marriage, or just observing a patient who is suffering and handling it with grace and dignity.
I realized that Dr. Ranck’s words and mentality of learning from his patients applied not only to hospice, but could be retroactively applied to my year and half that I felt I was in a barren environment doing home health care. A big part of it was in how I was viewing the care I was providing and realizing that it was not just providing care; it was learning about each patient, each diagnosis, each outcome. That one time I had to bridge a wound-vac in a different way for a heart transplant was not just a difficult challenge, it was a great lesson to file away in my Rolodex. No matter what the context for providing care, I feel that this belief of learning from those we care for can be achieved and will not only strengthen our own clinical practice when we have that mentality, but our patients will benefit as well.
As we are in this season of gift giving, I am reminded of Dr. Ranck’s words, and I can hear his kind voice saying it to me as I provide care to my patients. I try to learn something each day from them as I strive to provide the best care I can, and I hope that each of you can receive the gift of learning from your patients this season and every day of your career as you provide the best care possible.
Jon Templeman is a staff nurse at Our Hospice of South Central Indiana Inpatient Facility in Columbus, Indiana.