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The Importance of Effective Communication in Nursing

By Nicole Kraut RN

(Nicole will be writing a periodic blog post for us about her experiences as an early career nurse.)

From an early age we learn of the importance of communication. As children we learn how to properly ask for what we need and want in order to receive it. Almost everyone I know can recall daunting memories of high school or college speech class, in which we learned how to clearly and concisely inform or persuade our audience, which happened to be at least twenty of our peers. Then, as adults we learn how to communicate with our peers in order to improve teamwork and build meaningful relationships.

Communication in Healthcare

I will never forget one of the questions during my interview for my current role as a nurse: “Do you feel you have strong communication skills?” I simply responded that I feel confident in my communication skills because I have had experience and am comfortable with public speaking. I passed my high school speech class with flying colors. I was a leader for my high-school retreat and presented an hour-long speech in front of fifty of my peers. At that time, I thought effective communication simply meant clear and understandable spoken or written word.

As a nurse, you must effectively communicate in order to be successful in your role. Nurses must constantly express patient needs to physicians, write clear, yet concise notes that highlight the events of their shift and how patients are responding to treatment and care, and even clearly verbalize the events that led up the decision to call a code in a room that may be filled with chaos. While those are important examples of communication in healthcare, I have come to learn that effective communication is most important during patient interactions.

Lessons in Communication

The lessons in communication we learn from an early age help us to exchange information or express needs, something that can easily be learned from our parents, peers, or a speech class. Working in healthcare, you quickly learn that effective communication is about more than what you have to say.

As I write this, I reflect on patient interactions and how they have taught me valuable lessons in communication. Effective communication is a two-way street. You not only have to know what you want to say, but understand how that person will interpret it.

Patients are in stressful situations when they are admitted to the hospital. Whether they are in observation for stomach pain or have just been diagnosed with cancer, they are experiencing mixed, and often negative emotions.  Saying something as simple as “I will be checking your blood pressure every four hours” can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It may cause anxiety and alarm for patients, even though it is just routine. I have found that fully explaining why I am performing certain tasks is one of the simplest ways to effectively communicate with patients.

Listening is another important aspect of communication. Actions, such as facing a patient and maintaining eye contact lets them know I am engaged and they have my full attention. I often sit at a patient’s bedside at eye level while I am speaking with them.

I believe the most important lesson I have learned on communicating with patients is to put myself in their positions. While I am with a patient, I try to forget about the list of tasks I have to complete, the documentation that is waiting for me, or the medications I have yet to pass. I focus on the human being in front of me and try to understand where they are coming from—that alone continuously teaches me how to best communicate with my patients.

About the Author

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Nicole Kraut currently works as a RN on a medical-oncology unit in Chicago, Illinois. She serves as the night shift Team Leader for the unit, in which she serves as the charge nurse and participates in leadership activities. She has been a RN for over five years. Nicole shares, “I have had the opportunity to be a new hire preceptor and have worked with fourteen new hire staff RNs. Along with being a preceptor, I have been a facilitator for our New Graduate Mentor Program, which allows new graduate nurses a place to meet once a month to learn from each other and to share their experiences.”

Nicole graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Loyola University Chicago and recently obtained a Master of Science in Nursing with an Emphasis in Nursing Education from Grand Canyon University. She “was inspired to become a nurse because I wanted to work in a career field in which I could make a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. I feel nursing is my vocation and am passionate about sharing my knowledge and experience in order to positively influence others.”

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