We need to talk

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Approaching the end of my first placement, I’m finally feeling a bit less like a headless chicken. I know my way around a bed bath, I’m comfortable with a host of bodily fluids and have mastered the art of the perfectly positioned bedpan. I understand the rhythm of the ward and I’m more familiar with the paperwork and observations…well, I’m getting there.

However, what still keeps me up at night is that difficult question I didn’t answer well or that awkward moment of verbal diarrhoea when I should have just SHUT UP and listened.

We all know communication is important – but a recent report from Marie Curie explains that good communication is more than a ‘soft skill’, a ‘nice-to-have’ bonus once we’ve taken care of everything else. It says that good communication is an integral part of a person’s care and can have a direct impact on their recovery – whether it’s making sure a patient understands why they must take their medication, involving a patient in a decision or simply giving someone reassurance to ease anxieties.

On my ward I’ve noticed that as student nurses, we can play a special and unique role. Patients seem happier stopping us and asking questions or confiding their concerns and we can enjoy the privilege of a bit more time to stop and talk. Those few extra moments aren’t idle chat, they’re a key part of that patient’s treatment. They help them feel cared for, more human, especially when staying in hospital for long periods, away from everything familiar.

I found our recent communication module really valuable, though it could be easy to question why we need to be taught communication – we all know how to communicate, right? Marie Curie’s report argues that communication can and must be taught if we are to improve care – my time in practice so far has taught me that communication is probably the most important skill I’m going to develop.

Words stick, probably more than actions, so I want to be equally confident in communicating with patients as I hope to be in dealing with their physical needs.

It’s a work in progress and I know it’ll take time to develop my own, natural style of communicating with patients – I still find myself trotting out cliches or borrowing phrases from other staff that I think worked well. Recently I’ve been looking for opportunities to simply sit and talk to patients, and it’s paying off – I feel a little bit more confident after every shift. I’ve realised that patients don’t expect us to have all the answers; often, it’s just being there that counts.

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