By Anne Katz, PhD, RN, FAAN
On the very last day of Congress, I have the honor and pleasure of presenting about a topic that has been a passion of mine for a long time. As nurses, we’ve all had to have a challenging or sensitive conversation with a patient and/or family. Many of us have blushed and stumbled through these discussions, often wishing for the floor to open up and swallow us whole! Most of our non-nurse friends would find it hard to believe the things we have to talk to patients about—and most of them would have a really hard time finding the words to say what we have to say.
No matter how experienced you are, we all have barriers to talking about something. For some of us, talking about financial issues with patients is the line we cannot cross. For others, starting the conversation about end-of-life issues is enough to bring us to tears. Still others would rather walk on hot coals than address sexuality issues with patients who are old enough to be our parents (or grandparents). And how many of us are comfortable telling a patient that they need to lose weight? These topics are the elephant in the room—a two-ton beast that we try to ignore.
In “The Elephant in the Room” (did I mention it’s on Sunday, May 1, 2016?), I’ll tell you some stories and provide tools to help you have these conversations. You may still blush and stumble over the words, but I hope you’ll be a little less flushed and just a bit more steady after attending.
You see, I believe that communication is at the heart of nursing. Sure, caring is important. So are technical skills. Knowing some math is important if you need to calculate doses and drip rates (yes, I do know that hardly anyone has to do that anymore!). A good memory doesn’t hurt either when you need to remember names of drugs (and names of patients!). But being able to communicate is the foundation of everything we do as nurses. We talk to each other, and we talk to our students. We talk to our physician colleagues, and we talk to support staff and other members of the team. But mostly, we talk to our patients. In our talking, we educate and inform and encourage and support. And yes, we have to talk about the difficult stuff. And that causes some of us anxiety, especially when the topic is sensitive and loaded with feelings or something that we’ve never been taught to talk about. So some of us do it badly or don’t do it at all, even though we know that if we don’t do it, no one will.
So join me in one of the last sessions of what promises to be the best Congress ever as we reduce that two-ton elephant into a tiny toy that we can leave behind in San Antonio as we make our way home. You won’t miss that beast… I’ll make sure of that!