We recently spoke at SUNY Plattsburgh to the Health Promotion and Social Justice class, a group of sophomore RN students. 65 young men and women meet weekly as part of their nursing training. The course catalogue states that students will “explore self-perspectives on health and risk behaviors, gaining an understanding of their contribution to health. The experience of diverse individuals and family access to health is examined within a framework of social justice. Students engage in ethical decision making as they explore how the dimensions of environment, upstream thinking and health policy relate to health promotion. The underlying dynamics of health, such as self-efficacy, genomics and resilience are studied. Students explore the impact of cultural, social and ethnic diversity on health promotion. Evidence-based strategies to achieve healthy people in healthy communities is integrated.” If any of our readers want to renew their faith in this generation, visit a college class, particularly, this class. These young scholars were engaged, intelligent, and hopeful. Their enthusiasm and commitment to social justice was evident in their responses and approach to being a part of the healing professions.
The goal of our interactive talk was to discuss how we get to know our clients in a Life Coaching relationship and the parallels of creating a healing relationship in a nursing setting. We believe that relationships are often forged during the immediate ‘first impression’ stage. So, we began with a “hello” and a quick exercise; “We know you have been paying close attention to us, watching and wondering, since we walked in, so, on the corner of your note page, write down your first impressions of us (Sally and Michele), good, bad, or indifferent. They were very receptive to this exercise and immediately began writing and discreetly eyeing us from their tiered seating in Yokum Hall. We told them we would revisit these notes later in the hour. We began our presentation with a brief over view of who we are, what we do, and why we are passionate about our work. We invited the students to participate in an hour of professional communication and relationship building. About 15 minutes in, we asked them to revisit their impressions and write what they thought of us now, asking if anyone would like to share. Some had kept their initial impressions and some had changed; the point being that as much as we try not to judge, we do. Having an open mind and being nonjudgmental is a learned skill, a choice. Practicing it makes it work! We will still have that inner commentary, but we won’t fall into believing those initial interpretations of another person or situation. We can learn to temper our judgment with the opportunity to get to know someone, before a real lasting impression is made.
With the idea of professional non-judgment as our guiding principle, we jumped into tackling the people and circumstances we face in our professional and personal lives. We presented three real life situations we have encountered in our Life Coaching practice and thought those situations would offer an interesting parallel to situations that these future nurses would face as well. They centered around the intuitive process of gathering information about their patient.
We decided as a group, that for real healing to occur, a nurse (or any “helping” professional) should ask genuine and thoughtful questions to determine where there patient stands on the following points:
• What do they want? What is their end game? What are they looking for as a final outcome?
• What are their attitudes, obstacles or barriers in getting there?
• What motivates and encourages them?
• Who are the most positive people in their life?
We worked with the students to identify ways to discuss these questions and build rapport with clients/patients. Students worked in small groups to develop plans of action to use in situations where a patient is in need and a relationship must be built in a short amount of time. They then shared their responses with the larger group and what emerged was an approach that can give us all hope. Nursing students are realists and very practical by nature. They are also a unique combination of compassion and grit. Students intuitively and intellectually knew that much suffering is presented through the physical body and that real healing comes from addressing the root cause, not only in treating the symptom.
Our exercise in non-judgment proved correct. While we all make snap judgments we can consciously train ourselves to look beyond and seek more genuine connection with others. People just want to be understood and validated, whether we agree or disagree with them. We sometimes make judgments when we are distracted and not necessarily plugged into the “here and now”.
We also shared an idea we call “Approachable Professionalism”; meaning do you meet people where they are in that moment? Do you listen attentively and respond meaningfully? Do you interact at a level that makes people want to engage? Do you keep your personal life to yourself or check it at the door? These skills are necessary at any job, but nurses can particularly benefit from recognizing and practicing techniques to be absolutely present. A key to working with and giving clients or patients the time and attention that they are paying for and not being ‘distracted’ is setting aside the other events or client stories of the day, cleansing yourself by channeling negative energy out and positive energy in. Some mentally or physically shake it off, others visualize it flowing into the earth or out into the universe….we encourage all to try this….whatever works for you!
Our style & substance tip of the day: For one day focus on PRESENCE and BELIEVABILITY. Enter into every conversation and interaction with the idea of genuine thoughtfulness and concern. No little white lies, no manipulations, just trust and openness. See what happens.
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