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Personal care novice: tackling the nerves on duty

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Giving personal care for the very first time can cause anxiety to both patient and carer - however these useful tips should help abate any unease of the situation.

Personal care, as the name suggests, is a very personal and intimate experience which can sometimes feel awkward or embarrassing for a patient. And if you are a first time caregiver, the situation can be daunting for you too.

How do you start? What do you say? Should you even strike up a conversation at all during such personal care?

It could be argued that personal care is the most important aspect of nursing as this is when nurses really get to know their patients. Bonds are formed, cementing the patient-nurse relationship.

Nurses may become aware of a patch of dry skin that wasn’t there yesterday, notice a wound has healed and needs a different type of dressing, or that Mrs X can now stand unaided so her personal care plan will need to be amended to reflect this improvement.

Awkward moments

It could be argued that personal care forms the basis of nursing, and the taskscan be an enjoyable experience for both nurses and patients.

But given the intimacy of the situation, it can be a tricky. As a student nurse giving personal care for the first time can be a little unnerving.


Here are some useful tips which could make personal care an easier experience for both you and your patient:

Talk to the patient: No one knows a patient better than they know themselves. Some may have lived with their condition from birth. If you have been thrown into the deep end on your very first shift like Adam Miller, a third year student at Trinity Dublin College, try to stay calm. Adam was asked asked to wash an intoxicated patient for his very first time on a placement and said: “It is really about keeping the patient at ease.”

Finding about a patient’s usual bath or shower time routine from patients themselves promotes a ‘patient centered care’, enabling us to engage more with those in our care.

Be organised: You’ve probably heard this several times in your training, but as simple as it sounds it really is a useful tip. Getting all the basics such as clean flannels, soap, shaving gel together first minimises the time you spend dashing in and out of the cubicle for forgotten items.

Start from the top to the bottom: Wash from head to toe and not the other way round. Sometimes, if the patient is able to, give them a flannel to wash their upper body while you start on other areas.

Maintain dignity at all times: As this is an intimate situation maintaining the patient’s privacy and dignity are extremely important. Ensure that you have enough towels to cover the patient appropriately as you care for them. Exposing a patient completely is grossly disrespectful and unprofessional.

The little itsy-bitsy things that really matter: Oral hygiene, brushing hair, foot hygiene and body spray are all small matters but can be very important for your patient. Imagine if that was you getting ready to go out, what did you do this morning to ensure you looked your best?

The humdrum hospital environment can sometimes prove a dampener to patients admitted there. Therefore, thoughtfully performing duties for patients temporarily in our care, also forms part of their recovery process.

“It’s important to make the atmosphere positive. It shouldn’t be a mundane task but a good way of starting the morning for the patient,” Shauna Byrne, 20, Second Year Student University of York.

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