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What Nurses Wish You Knew


Posted on February 17, 2017

Insight and advice from the front lines of care.

Illustration by Kyle Smart

From bandages to code blues, nursing stretches far beyond simply following doctors’ orders. In fact, nurses usually dwell more in the daily care of a hospital patient than the doctors making rounds. Recognizing that nurses are operating on the front lines, you might someday find a nurse is your new best friend. At the very least, a nurse’s insight might change your next medical experience.

We asked hospital and outpatient nurses from various departments at Sutter Health, Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente and UC Davis Medical Center what they wish their patients knew. Here are their responses in their own words.

FAMILY MATTERS

“We understand that when your child is hospitalized, there is an overwhelming sense of helplessness, a loss of control to protect them from sickness. Sometimes, we have to attempt several times to start an IV or obtain blood for labs. Sometimes, it’s necessary to place a feeding tube or catheter, withhold water or food, or other procedures that seem like torture. But we’re on the same team. We have the same goal: to find out what’s wrong and get them better. When we look at a child, we put ourselves in their [parents’] position. That makes me want to do everything I can for their child.”—Riette Nelson, R.N., pediatric intensive care unit, Sutter Health

“Having a family member in attendance provides a more supportive environment for the patient. The whole healing process is now patient- and family-centered. Patient recovery is quicker and medical decisions are best achieved when family is involved.”—Lanie Tranchina, R.N., medical/surgical unit, Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center 

“Children often mimic the behavior they see around them, so when parents are anxious and upset, it affects their children, causing them increased anxiety and fear, which can lead to a slower healing process overall. Although the hospital is not an ideal place to be, it is OK to make it fun: Play games, go for walks, participate in music therapy, request a visit from our therapy dogs, head to the playroom for some arts and crafts. Even when kids aren’t feeling well, they like to have fun, and getting out of bed helps them get back on the path to a healthy life.”—Rhonda Elliott, R.N., pediatrics, Sutter Medical Center

DEALING WITH PAIN

“It is important for patients to communicate all of their needs, including those around their pain or pain control. Pain medications work differently for each individual. The nurse and patient should discuss the type of medications that have been ordered or given. Also, if the medications are helping this pain or creating any side effects. At times, we may not be able to keep someone pain free. If there are open conversations, education regarding pain medication, management and expectations, we are able to reach improvement together.”—Sherri Hart, R.N., ambulatory (outpatient) internal medicine, UC Davis Medical Center 

“I work in the [hospital’s] postoperative care unit, or PACU, and patients coming out of surgery are usually experiencing immense pain. Stress and frustration can be a byproduct of high pain levels, and if I can bring their pain to a tolerable level, usually stress and frustration subside. I reassure my patients that I will do everything I can to safely lower their pain to a tolerable level, where they are able to eat, talk with family and get up to use the restroom. I also give my patients a voice in their pain management plan. I let them know all of the options for pain control, with the benefits and side effects of each choice. Giving patients a voice in their pain management can help alleviate anxiety and frustration.”—Melody Hillstrom, R.N., postoperative care unit, UC Davis Medical Center

IN THE ER

“As Emergency Department nurses, we are passionate about delivering exceptional care. We are trained to stay calm in unpredictable, often chaotic situations. Some patients perceive this composure as a lack of compassion or urgency. It’s actually quite the opposite. What’s more, our priorities as an Emergency Department nurse can change minute by minute. Your pain is important to us, but your pain probably won’t kill you. If we are late on delivering your pain medication or getting you water, we are probably busy with an unstable or critically ill patient. We know our priorities, assess each patient and situation based on our training, and accurately triage to determine who needs us right now and who can wait. The waiting game may be frustrating, but in an ER, it’s actually a good thing. Waiting means you aren’t dying.”—Maryam Gol, R.N., emergency department, Mercy General Hospital

COMPASSIONATE CARE

“We’ve all had a time when we weren’t coping well and it showed. I align myself with those patients. I work hard to model their world so I can . . . connect with them, and it turns out that what makes that connection is a little different for everyone.”—Jesse Senestraro, R.N., medical-surgical intensive care unit, UC Davis Medical Center

“In my work, I find that irritable patients often just need to vent. If they ask me to leave, I do. Otherwise, I let them talk and just listen and validate how they are feeling. We explore their pain, finding out if it is physical, emotional or spiritual. I have great doctors who manage pain in my patients. If it is physical, we make sure they have the right medications.”—Katrina Lounsbury, R.N., palliative care department, Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center

HEALTH BASICS

“The one health habit I wish everyone would adopt, if possible, is to get moving. I would love to see more people incorporate activity into their daily routine. Activity is good for the body and soul.”—Cherie Capagli, R.N., medical/surgical oncology unit, Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center

“It is so important to eat a healthy diet. This can prevent getting so many life-impacting diseases.”—Sherri Hart, R.N., ambulatory (outpatient) internal medicine, UC Davis Medical Center

“It would be wonderful if you could stop smoking.”—John Hay Ancheta, R.N., medical/ surgical unit, Kaiser Permanente Sacramento Med-ical Center

“Patients should look to their health care team to diagnose and develop a plan for their care, recognizing that they share in the responsibility of participating in the plan, as well as making decisions when different options are offered.”—Sherri Hart, R.N., ambulatory (outpatient) internal medicine, UC Davis Medical Center

“I wish our patients knew the gravity of some of their medical conditions. Whether it’s hypertension or diabetes, or even something more complex like chronic kidney disease, these illnesses are serious and can ultimately lead to severe outcomes. When nurses see the same patients come in repetitively into the hospital due to noncompliance or poor disease management, treating them for the same thing over and over again, it truly is heartbreaking. Not only because of hours of treatment and education we have committed and provided for them, but also knowing the fact that the road they’re heading toward is not optimistic. But nonetheless, I also want them to know that no matter what, we nurses have taken a pledge to devote ourselves to continue to provide the highest quality care.”—Ericson Alvin Fernando, R.N., clinical coordinator, neurology/medical-acute, Mercy General Hospital

THE BIGGER PICTURE

“Every patient’s needs are important to us. On a daily basis, nurses are met with ever-changing dynamics of patient care. This includes life-threatening emergencies, patients climbing out of bed, pulling lines and complicated medication administration. The nurse is continually prioritizing the multitude of needs of all their patients to make sure they are met to the best of the nurse’s ability in a timely and safe manner. We really do our best to get there as fast as possible.”—Cherie Capagli, R.N., medical/surgical oncology unit, Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center

IT’S THE LAW

“Achieving safe, consistent and high-quality patient care requires nurses to not only have good clinical training and skills, but also the ability to know and follow the laws, policies and procedures governing every interaction and patient encounter. There’s a reason why we have a policy requiring nurses to double- and triple-check a patient’s wristband, for example, before giving a medication, even though we may have been caring for that individual for several days. Likewise, in the operating room, surgical teams must take a ‘timeout’ just before starting a procedure to ensure that everything is accurate about the patient and his or her case. Federal, state and individual hospital policies govern everything we do at the medical center.” Hillary Tucker, R.N., cardiac and thoracic intensive care unit, UC Davis Medical Center

WHY NURSING?

“I love people; I really enjoy human interaction. Nursing can get really hard and it can hurt, but those are the times when you reach out and give compassion, and you feel that pain twinge in your heart and your capacity for compassion grows. I became a nurse to become a better man; I just didn’t know it at the time.”Jesse Senestraro, R.N., medical-surgical intensive care unit, UC Davis Medical Center

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