Salaries are decent, learning opportunities are great, and work is always available, but the main reason most people in healthcare decide to work there is the opportunity it creates to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Whatever the role you’re working in, there are always things you can do to make patients’ experiences better and to support your colleagues. Keeping up morale helps the whole team when times are tough, and small day-to-day actions can make a big difference to overall well-being. The attitude you bring to your job is one of the most important parts of your toolkit.
Listening to the patient
If you want to help patients, the first thing you should do is listen to them – not because there’s any guarantee that they will fully understand the issues they’re facing, but because each patient has a unique way of relating to the experience of being ill. They will feel much more confident if they feel that somebody is paying attention to that experience and that they are able to control some aspects of their experience. Having some control over how much they are told is a major element of this. Some patients want to know everything and possess the skills to play an active role in decision-making, whereas others prefer to think about what’s wrong with them as little as possible and trust healthcare staff to make all the decisions on their behalf.
When they’re facing stressful situations, what many patients really need is just to have somebody to talk to. This is also the case for patients who feel isolated in their day-to-day lives, which includes a lot of elderly and disabled people whom you might encounter in the community. If you can make the time, being there to listen is a big help. Follow guidelines for counselors: avoid giving advice or sharing too much that is personal to you (because you need to look after yourself too). Simply invite patients to talk and show them that you value what they have to say.
Treating the whole person
Traditionally, healthcare systems in the West have had two approaches: doctoring, which focuses on the diagnosis and the treatment of disease, and nursing, which takes a holistic approach and focuses on the promotion of health. Now, doctors are increasingly trying to incorporate elements of nursing philosophy into what they do, or to work more closely with nursing staff, because there is a recognition that an overall healthy lifestyle – including good mental health – leads to better outcomes.
A positive approach to patient care includes making sure that they’re doing the right things day to day, away from healthcare services. It means working with them to find ways of reducing aggravating factors – everything from providing support to quit smoking to helping them get out of unsuitable accommodation. You need to recognize that you won’t have the skills to do everything yourself, but you can make referrals to other services, and you’ll build up a list of useful contacts over time.
People with serious physical ailments face an elevated risk of developing anxiety or depression but often fail to report symptoms because they feel that they’re not as serious as the primary illness or that they shouldn’t make a fuss. This can lead to chronic mental illness, which persists even after physical recovery. Focusing on the whole person increases the chances of spotting these early and beginning treatment which can prevent long-term problems from developing.
Finding patient-friendly solutions
Where there’s more than one viable way of treating a patient, taking into account the patient’s own preferences, beliefs and lifestyle can help to make healthcare a much more positive experience. Many patients don’t understand that they have the right to raise issues like this and need support to do so. Although catering to personal preferences and cultural needs won’t always be practical, even small concessions can have a big positive effect, and the less patients feel forced into compromise, the less stress they will experience. This can lead to an improvement in mental health outcomes in long-stay hospital patients.
Finding the best ways to treat patients is something that is everchanging, but nurses and healthcare workers can stay up to date with developments in the field by studying at accredited institutions like Walsh University. By taking an online nursing program, you can develop your knowledge and understanding of evidence-based practice and implement your knowledge in the workplace.
Patients often struggle to keep up with their religious and cultural commitments when in hospital. This can also be an issue in the community if an illness is making it harder for them to get out and about or perform particular actions. This is still more of a problem for members of minority religious and ethnic groups, who can easily become isolated from others with the same background when major health events occur. Helping them to reconnect or finding community leaders who can visit them can do a lot to reduce stress. Most religious traditions incorporate workarounds for people who are seriously ill or disabled and having access to these provides a lot of comfort.
Helping the patient cope with difficult procedures
Sometimes there is only one way to progress with treatment if a patient is to survive, and that may be something very unpleasant. Where this is the case, healthcare workers can help by demystifying the process and, where applicable, providing positive examples of how it has helped other people in the past. Being available to answer questions (as long as you understand the procedure properly yourself) can make it a lot less intimidating.
Patients facing procedures like this often feel a deep need for reassurance but don’t know how to discuss it with those close to them. This is a particular problem for men, who often feel that they have to be strong for their families and are deeply uncomfortable about revealing vulnerability. In that situation, it’s often easier to talk to a stranger. Don’t push people to express themselves in ways that may not work for them, but simply let them know that a lot of people feel nervous in their situation and that you think that’s completely understandable. This gives them a sort of permission to open up to you if they want to by assuring them that you won’t react badly or think less of them if they do.
In the face of frightening events, small practical comforts can mean a great deal. That could mean taking the time to sit and hold a patient’s hand, helping them to dress up a long-stay room so that it feels a bit more like home, or arranging a source of support such as animal therapy. Making sure people can access the food they like (where it’s safe to do so), arranging small birthday celebrations, or helping their relatives plan surprises can all contribute to taking the stress out of a difficult situation.
No matter how skilled they are, almost all healthcare workers ultimately have to deal with losing patients. This can be very difficult, and it sometimes leads to ongoing trauma. The best defense against it is a strong, mutually supportive team, and that’s something that everybody can contribute to. Looking out for your colleagues is one of the unwritten rules of the healthcare community. It’s particularly important during difficult times, such as those brought about by the COVID pandemic, but it also matters at other times because you never know when somebody might be having a really difficult day.
It’s not only tragedies that cause stress at work. It’s easy for people to get overwhelmed by day-to-day pressures and wind up feeling exhausted. When a lot of people are in that condition, it’s easy for them to end up snapping at each other and making things worse. If you want to create a positive working environment, one of the first things you should do is to keep a check on your own temper. You can also take small positive actions, from opening doors to volunteering, when you have the time, to take small jobs off tired colleagues’ hands, and turn that mood around.
Partly as a consequence of shared stress, bullying develops in some workplaces and can have really damaging effects. Making a positive contribution isn’t just about being nice – it’s also about putting your foot down when you witness inappropriate behavior which is causing distress. Make sure you know whom to report it to, and don’t be slow about taking action.
When patients and staff alike are under pressure, it might not feel as if the actions of one person can make a great deal of difference, but every time you step in to take positive action, you will also be setting an example to others. As more people take that approach, the overall atmosphere will begin to change. You will see the positive impacts of your efforts multiply and affect staff and patients alike, and everyone will benefit.