Being a More Empathetic Nurse

The responsibilities of nurses not only involve physical assistance to patients. Nurses also need to empathize with patients and learn to talk in ways that will not harm patients emotionally. Although nurses can never be in another person’s shoes, they still need to be understanding of the patients’ situation.

Whether you are a BSN nursing student or someone taking a paramedic to RN program, teachers will always remind you to be patient and understanding of your patients. That is why Psychology is integrated to the nursing school curriculum.

But how can we, as nurses, try to help or support patients emotionally. You would think that asking them the oft-used question, “How are you today?” seems like a good idea. However, the answer you will most likely get is a short, “I’m okay.” This makes it harder for you to know what the patients are really thinking. So instead of asking that, perhaps you could ask them what’s on their mind that day. That will give them the opportunity to truly verbalize how they feel about their situation.  If patients start to pour out their feelings, remember to be truly interested in what they say. Sometimes, all they need is a good listener. Perhaps their families or loved ones do not have time to chat with them. A simple chat would suffice.

A nurse’s body movements also matters in communication. When a nurse crosses her arms, looks at her watch or looks away, patients feel as if they were not being paid attention to. To be present in the conversation, nurses should always establish eye contact. The simple movement of leaning in and smiling are signs that you are actually listening to their story. Nurses have to be physically and mentally present when they interact with patients.

Most of all, try not to be distracted. Distraction will break the flow of the conversation. If you remember that you have to do something urgent, politely interrupt the conversation and excuse yourself with the promise of coming back later.

The bottom line is, nurses should always make patients feel emotionally and physically better. If you are a nurse leader, make sure that you advise your staff to have caring presence.

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