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How to motivate students: the smile experiment

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Senior lecturer, Cath Taylor, discusses the value of motivation vs education

This is my first blog for Nursing Times, a publication which I have read and used for continuing professional development for many years (since the late 80s).

Initially I was thinking about what to write. What things am I really interested in within nurse education that I want to share? Then I began thinking about the students I teach and what they might like to read and whether I could write something useful for them.

As I was thinking, I recalled a conversation I’d had recently with one of my 3rd year student nurses. She was talking about her first week on the course way back in 2009. She reminded me of a teaching session I had given on professionalism in practice. The aim of the session is to create a list of ‘do’s and don’ts before the students start their very first placement.

As part of the session, I told the students about the ‘smile experiment.

You might know it. It’s the exercise where you smile at some random stranger and see whether they smile back at you. It was an illustration to get across the point about professional image and how to present oneself in practice and that often, a simple smile can break the ice, even if you’re more worried than the patient appears to be!

That Friday, I gave the students their ’homework’ and advised them to smile at three different random strangers over the course of their weekend.

Some scoffed at it as a silly exercise – but this particular student didn’t.

Sitting in my office over two years later, she was telling me about how she felt motivated and enthused by the simple idea of presenting yourself professionally for the first time, and smiling at complete strangers was a vastly new thing and made so much sense in developing an opening rapport with patients.

The conversation made me realise that even without the knowledge transfer component of the teaching session, the value of education in being able to motivate and enthuse students (pre and post-registration) is immense.

The student said she has never forgotten my smile experiment lecture and she always makes sure she smiles when meeting patients for the first time and it really makes a difference to some patients when they see a smiling friendly face.

I urge you to try the smile experiment, you will surprise yourself … and maybe your colleagues and patients too!

Cath Taylor is a senior lecturer in Adult Nursing at Liverpool JMU.


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Readers' comments (1)

  • I was very happy to read this article, as sometimes I feel that a lot of nurses have lost somethingh so simple yet so pleasing and comforting.
    I have noticed that nurse managers in my area of work do not smile, maybe they they see it as a sort of weakness especially in these times to look smart, talk sharp and be assertive is in.
    I have worked in areas of nursing where the patients are unable to smile because of their illness.
    Being able to smile is an asset , lets use it for ourselves and others.

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