The value of effective communication
One of the core strengths of a good nurse is the power of effective communication. We must feel safe communicating our thoughts and ideas with one another. If we create a hostile environment then our new nurses will not feel they can safely share the ideas they have for improving the care provided to patients.
Forms of interpersonal communication
Communication happens on many levels, speaking face-to-face, through the use of technology (e-mail, individual paging systems like Vocera), body language, and written documentation. According to Cherry (2019) body language can include facial expressions, the gaze, the mouth, gestures, the arms and legs, posture, and personal space (proxemics). We need to be aware of the messages we are sending through the way we present ourselves to others.
In nursing school students must wear a particular uniform, put their hair up, keep makeup and jewelry to a minimum, have clean shoes, and always wear their name badge. Some students do not understand why the dress code is so strict. What we are trying to teach them is that the way they present themselves helps patients to trust their professionalism. This is a very important non-verbal way of communicating.
Documentation is also something that all nurses must be able to do thoroughly. Students learn what to document early on in school. Students also are expected to write research papers…this is not because faculty love to grade them…but again, as a way to teach students to be effective in their written communication. Think of opening a patient chart and reading the notes that previous nurses and doctors have written. Without good notes the next nurse would not know pertinent information about the care that was, and still needs to be, provided.
It goes without saying that good communication must occur between members of the healthcare team, between the nurse and the patient, and between the nurse and other departments. If effective chain of communication does not occur then it can be difficult for optimal care to be achieved because links have been missed. The same is true in the situation in which the more experienced nurse doesn’t feel it is necessary to share information with a new nurse, thinking it is easier to just do the work by themselves. In the long run this communication style will backfire as there will come a time when the experienced nurse needs the help of the new nurse but the new nurse will not have all the information needed to correctly assist.
Mentoring the next generation of nurses
This is the time of year when many new nurses enter the field. I refuse to be one of THOSE nurses who “eat their young”. I love to share my knowledge with the novice nurses who enter the field wide-eyed and innocent. I take them under wing to give them the support they need as they begin this transition from student to healthcare professional.
Working in the field of Mental Health nursing I have had my share of being talked down to, “We have one of yours to send over from the ED”. I have learned over the years that there still is a lot of fear and stigma surrounding mental healthcare. I want to laugh sometimes at the vision that comes to mind of caring for just the head of a person, when in fact we are caring for the entire body, mind, and spirit. It is very much a holistic practice. We may not insert a lot of IV’s but we recognize when a person is in trouble and needs more urgent medical care than we have equipment to provide on a behavioral health unit.
Since it is difficult to find nurses who want to work in mental health, it is even more important to take the time to answer questions, provide feedback, and offer support to the graduate level nurses who show interest in this nursing specialty. This support will give them the foundation they need as novice practitioners. It also shows them that we look forward to hearing new ideas as these can lead to advocating for positive change.
Mentoring begins with our newest nursing students who are just arriving on campus. Encouraging them every step of the way, with a kind smile, a “great job!”, and being available to answer their questions is how we begin the mentoring process. We can take cues from them as to how to best meet their needs, just as we do with patients, using our observational skills to determine when a student needs a bit of extra help or time learning a new skill.
If you are standing in front of a classroom this semester, take a deep breath and live in the moment. Allow time to talk with them about what is going on in the world. Ask how they are feeling. Ask how you can help. Listen. Be a mentor… always.
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