By Bridget Bundy, BSN, RN, CDE
Bridget Bundy works as a Clinical Nurse Educator for VMS BioMarketing in the Midwest region. She has provided patient and professional education for more than 10 years, working within two large hospital systems and a global device manufacturer.
I don't know about you, but I always have the best time at work when a patient and I connect so much so that I want to become their new best friend! It is in those connections where I feel I've made the greatest difference with a patient. We have understood one another so much, it's as if I just had a conversation with a friend. My patient has opened up about the struggles they are experiencing and, when I offer assistance, it's a message closely tailored to their needs. What an experience!
When I started my professional career after college, "getting personal” was not seen as a positive thing. Now that I work in patient education, I have thrown that idea out the window. I tell anyone who will listen about my new puppy and the crazy things my children tell me. I want my patients to know me, trust me, and recognize that I am invested in them. This sets the foundation for my patients to have the most positive learning experience possible.
During my senior year of high school, I took AP Calculus. I would not say I loved the content, but I had a great teacher. I enjoyed going to class and did well in the course. However, because I was not quite able to receive college credit for the class, I took the course again during my freshman year in college. In doing so, I learned a valuable lesson.
The second time, a teaching assistant taught the class. She spoke more softly than a delicate little flower, and I had a hard time understanding her at all. I did terribly! To pass the class, I believe I survived off the knowledge I had received in high school. I was taught the same content in two very different environments with two very different results! It had everything to do with the person teaching me and the connection we made. Clinical Educators must carry this concept into our patient education.
You know the first question I ask my patients when I meet them? "So, what's going on?” Some might think that's a dangerous question. You may start off by hearing how they were referred to you for a "bad” A1c, and then all of a sudden you are listening to a story about how the patient's cat died. I love these stories because it means the patient has put forth information that allows me to connect to her and build a trusting line of communication. I am learning about my patients and the barriers they are experiencing. They are talking to me as if I were their friend.
A recent article from Psychology Today1 states the qualities we look for in our friends—trustworthiness, good listening, confidence, being non-judgmental, supportiveness, experiencing and expressing empathy—just to name a few. When you find a friend like this, you let them into your life and you look to them for advice. These should be the same qualities we look for in our patient educators. Building an open, trusting relationship lends to a true two-way discussion instead of linear instructions. Our patients will return to us. Our patients will come to us willing and wanting to learn and to help themselves. Our patients will identify and overcome barriers. And this is what patient education is all about. So, go out there and make a new bestie! You may even have fun! I'm even friends with my calculus teacher on Facebook.1 Degges-White S. The 13 Essential Traits of Good Friends. Psychology Today. March 23, 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lifetime-connections/201503/the-13-essential-traits-good-friends. Accessed August 7, 2017.