We know that strong, clear communication is essential, from writing our personal statements and applying for a place at university, to its place in the reported failings in nursing care such as the Francis Inquiry and the Andrews Report.
We also know communication is one of the 6Cs and we know it will be the basis of numerous competencies which we need to achieve on placements, as well as the topic of lectures and assessments throughout our degrees.
I recently worked at an open day for my university, something which I have done several times since starting my training as I enjoy meeting potential applicants and talking to them about the degree programme and the profession of nursing. Last week one of the parents of a potential student said something to me that has thrown a new light on the importance of communication.
“Those four words, likely said without thought, or indeed any intent of causing pain, robbed him of that experience”
While showing the parent and daughter where we practice communication skills he said how delighted he was that this featured within the curriculum. He started to tell me of an experience he had many years ago when his child was born.
As expectant parents his partner and he had opted not to learn the sex of the baby and he was waiting outside of the delivery room, waiting excitedly to see his baby for the first time and learn whether he had a son or a daughter. After several hours waiting a member of staff appeared and said ‘your daughter is beautiful’.
“He was waiting excitedly to see his baby for the first time and learn whether he had a son or a daughter”
Those four words, likely said without thought, or indeed any intent of causing pain, robbed him of that experience and had a profound impact on him - such an impact that he volunteered this story to me during what was only a five minute conversation.
I wonder how many times I have said something innocent and had such an impact on a patient or a family member and remained completely unaware?
“It really does challenge us as nurses to be acutely aware of the impact we can have”
This person’s brief story will have an impact on me now and ensure that I strive to always think about what I say and how this relates to what information I already know about my patient and their situation and family.
After nine months of waiting, of having it built up, imagining walking into the room and finding out the biggest surprise you could have, it was taken away with four innocent words. It really does challenge us as nurses to be acutely aware of the impact we can have.
Since this conversation took place I have been doing work for an assignment for which one of the themes I am discussing is communication. As usual, I ended up getting distracted and was reading something seemingly unrelated to the assignment when I came across one of the most beautiful things I have ever read that is, for me, as poignant as the story I was told:
“Words are powerful and beautiful and exciting and necessary. As a nurse…they are the tools of my trade, my means of expression, my comfort and with them I can, and have, given pleasure to others”
(Wright 2008, p. 342)
It is important to remember that words can cause both great pleasure and immense pain, and as nurses the words we say to our patients and their families hold great power. Let us remember to speak carefully.
Tim Nagle is a 2nd year mental health student
- Wright, J (2008) Searching one’s self: the autoethnography of a nurse teacher. Journal of Research in Nursing 13(4), pp. 338-347.