Have you ever tried to keep a secret from a nurse? You may have tried, but before you could catch yourself, you were pouring your heart out and every nurse on your unit knew your life story. Have you ever wondered why nurses were so approachable and comforting? Nurses have many unique talents. In general, they are exceptional multi-taskers, creative thinkers and have ample analytical intelligence to manage inconceivably complex patients. However, perhaps the most underestimated and most important talent of a nurse is his or her ability to “know” people.
Formally, nurses tend to have a high degree of emotional intelligence, which makes them exceptional caregivers. In today’s society emotional intelligence is immensely undervalued. Unfortunately, most people are judged and rewarded by their ability to perform highly on a standardized test rather than their individual talents. However, I personally think that emotional intelligence is simply under recognized, and that the most successful people share this talent.
Characteristics of people with emotional intelligence include social skills, self-awareness, graciousness and emotional control. Also, empathy is a hallmark characteristic of people with a high degree of emotional intelligence. Meaning, empathetic people have awareness of other’s feelings, and they truly care about the impact of their actions on others. This does not mean they are unwilling to make tough decisions… it means they openly acknowledge and consider their emotions and others.
So how is emotional intelligence applicable in nursing? Anyone in the medical profession should understand the nurse’s ability to “know” people can potentially save lives and HCAHPS scores. In the medical world that can be nearly robotic. Nurses have the ability to humanize the medical process and treat the patient and patient’s family members individually and holistically.
Since the bedside nurse spends the most time with the patient, she/he tends to learn more about the patient than other healthcare providers, simply by default. When bathing, feeding, and caring for a patient for multiple shifts nurses learn the patients normal behaviors and routines. Details, such as, knowing the patients’ favorite food, typical body language, expressions and vulnerabilities may seem insignificant to some. But in reality, changes in these normalcies can alert the healthcare team to a physiological decline.
Although my experience has been in the ICU, this talent is applicable in every bedside setting. For example, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a nurse say something as simple as, “I don’t like the way my patient looks,” and the patient has decompensated hours later without any other indication. I’ve also seen nurses predict a less than stellar post-extubation performance despite acceptable blood gas results and breathing mechanics. These nurses didn’t like the way the patient was breathing, or felt like something was “off.” Hospice nurses can predict when a patient will die down to the hour by watching the slightest changes in the patient’s body language.
It is easy to disregard this talent because there are no numbers or data confirming its truth. Yet, a nurses’ instinct is a gift to healthcare and it is a disservice to treat it trivially. The ability to “know” people helps provide better, individualized patient care. In my opinion, it may possibly even lead to increased patient satisfaction and outcomes. So, for my public service announcement: To all healthcare providers, when a nurse says “something is not right” or “my patient is acting different,” pay attention to them and value their opinion. Similarly, to all of the significant others of nurses: Never lie, because every nurse will know your secrets. Now go save some lives.
Danielle is the owner of her nurse blog Nurse Abnormalities.