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A patient is a member of a family

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We talk about a holistic approach to care but often fail to provide comfort and support to the people that matter the most to patients; their families





Progressing through the second year in adult nursing, last semester helped me to recognise how families and their emotions are usually disregarded.

As a student nurse, have you ever reflected on previous placements and suddenly some of your flaws have become apparent?

Well, l have and upon reflection I have found a number of things that I would pay more attention to today, which I failed to focus on in my first year.  

This year, I have truly understood how each person is a member of a family, which means that families play an integral role in maintaining an individual’s health. I have comprehended how a holistic approach should include the patient’s support system and that entails families. After all, the entire wellbeing of a patient can be affected by the functioning of the family. That being said, emphasis should be placed on the need to support families for a holistic approach to be accomplished.

I will be honest, I didn’t realise this during my first-year placements; looking back, I was always preoccupied with the physical, emotional and psychological needs of the patients I cared for. I often forgot to build a relationship with the patient’s family. I recall always making time to sit with patients. I must have made numerous cups of tea and coffee in-between meals, just so I could sit and get to know the people behind the illnesses. 

My initial reaction, though, when visitors arrived was to greet them and give them some privacy. I guess at the time I felt that relatives needed more time alone with their loved ones. Now, I can see how vulnerable both patients and family members can be during a hospital admission. It is through experience that I have come to acknowledge how relatives may be struggling to cope or understand what their loved one is going through. 

A recent placement, where most of the admissions were individuals experiencing alcohol-withdrawal symptoms, was an eye opener; further indicating how vital it is to spend time with families. 

Each person is a member of a family, which means that families play an integral part in maintaining an individual’s health.

Each person is a member of a family, which means that families play an integral role in maintaining an individual’s health

Each person is a member of a family, which means that families play an integral role in maintaining an individual’s health

As I assessed patients undergoing withdrawal symptoms, such as confusion, agitation, hallucinations and episodes of being aggressive, it was clear that some relatives were used to their loved ones being vibrant and in control. Seeing loved ones behaving otherwise aroused intense emotions. I gathered that relatives wonder if their loved ones will ever be themselves again. I also observed that relatives perceive most situations as life threatening, and who can blame them?  Whilst they are on the wards, they notice when other patients in the same bay pass away. 

What can l say? Well, the hospital experience can be a frightening experience for anyone. 

Interacting with the family can indeed be therapeutic, therefore student nurses should engage more with families. A few minutes of just sitting with families and asking ‘How are you doing?’, ‘Is there anything you would like to talk about, any concerns etc.?’, can allow family members to relieve their tension. 

When I made that extra effort to listen and get to know and understand how relatives were feeling, l was able to use my knowledge to manage misinformation, to provide comfort and support and to alleviate feelings of sadness, fear and shock. All student nurses should embrace the responsibility of utilising their listening skills, because a holistic approach to care can be achieved through just a brief conversation.

In the hospital, everyone matters. Let us all work together. Considering and taking care of relatives’ emotions should absolutely be a part of providing a holistic approach to care.

Prudence S Mlambo is in her second year studying adult nursing at Salford University 

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