Q&A With Nurse B: How Do I Articulate My Value?
Beth Boynton, RN, MS specializes in communication, collaboration, and workplace culture. She offers advice on how to navigate common conflicts in nursing and healthcare with an eye towards shared accountability and co-creative solutions.
If you’d like to have a conflict or situation considered for this column please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I recently attended a workshop where I was asked to describe a professional situation where I felt inspired about my work. First, I had to share my story with one colleague and then in the larger group of 12. It only took me a minute or two to think of a situation where I felt very inspired by something I did and yet, when I went to describe it, I heard myself saying, “I really didn’t do much of anything.” I realized right after I spoke that I was underestimating the value of what I did even though it was a profound experience for me. I’d like to share my story with you and ask if you can help me to understand or perhaps find words to explain the value of my intervention.
Here is my story: As a high school nurse, one of the graduating seniors was a young woman whom I had seen over the years because of issues she faced with unstable Type I Diabetes. She was a bright young woman who was well known in the school for her beautiful singing voice.
She was in my office one day recovering from a low blood glucose level, and I asked her what her plans were after graduation. She told me that she didn’t really have any and that she believed her diabetes would prevent her from pursuing a career in teaching or singing. She expressed concerns about missing classes and worries about being unreliable. I remember listening to her and nodding; I understood her concerns.
She had missed quite a few classes over the years and her disease had never been stable for more than a few weeks at a time. I told her that I could imagine how difficult it might be to attend college full time, and I asked if she had ever considered going to school part-time. It was such a simple question, but a light bulb went off and her whole face lit up. “Can I do that?” she asked.
“I don’t see why not,” I said. I suggested she talk with one of the guidance counselors and offered to be a resource for her, as well. I also knew the nurse at her endocrinologist’s office and suggested that she might have some resources too.
To make a long story short, this student did go to school part-time and became a part-time music teacher at an elementary school. She writes to me every now and then, and I always feel good about the role I played in helping her. It seems like communication was an important part of what I did, yet how do I describe it? I’d appreciate your insights.
INSPIRED, BUT NOT SURE WHY!
Need some inspiration yourself? Read this: 7 Important Elements To An Inspiring Nursing Career
Thank you for your wonderful story and the opportunity it creates to focus on the value of what you did. I believe you are right about communication being an important part of your interventions, and yet this may be much more complicated than it appears. Let’s put it under the microscope and see some of the beautiful complexities involved.
Your relationship — It sounds like you had developed a rapport with this student, and over the years became a trusted resource. She felt safe in sharing her fears with you.
Your listening skills — You listened and nodded as she shared her worries. Sometimes such a simple thing as nodding says so much. I hear you. I understand you. I care about you. Your unspoken messages may have been extremely powerful. Nonverbal communication can account for over 90% of what we share.
Your expertise — Not only did she trust you with her worries, but I bet she believed that you understood what limitations her diabetes caused. As a nursing professional, you have knowledge and experience that made you a credible resource. Your sense of what this student would be facing and/or what she could do included a genuine understanding of her disease process.
Your networking — Your connections with the guidance counselor and specialty nurse provided safe avenues for the student to investigate opportunities. The trusting relationship she has with you provides a similar foundation for those you refer her to. Think about how powerful this might be in helping her to take the risk of seeking more support. After talking with you, the young woman can say, “The nurse (at my school) thought I should talk with you about going to school part-time.”
Your encouragement — When you asked her if she ever considered going to school part-time and expressed belief that it was possible embodied all of the above! Your relationship, your listening, your expertise, and your networking all contributed to her taking these life-changing steps.
Bravo to a wonderful example of celebrating the role that nurses play every day – not always easy to articulate, but so profound in professional and personal ways. I wonder how often we contribute to patient care in such a manner.
Can you think of a situation where you felt inspired about your work as a nurse? How would you describe the value of what you did? We’d love to hear your story.
Beth Boynton, RN, MS is a Medical Improv Practitioner and author of Confident Voices (CreateSpace 2009) and Successful Nurse Communication (F.A. Davis 2015). Her third book, Medical Improv: A New Way to Improve Communication is scheduled for release in 2017.