The Other End Of the Stethoscope

By Keith Carlson via Multibriefs

Nurses are natural patient advocates, brokers of information and resources for optimal patient care, wellness and outcomes. The nurse can truly make a world of difference in the patient experience when proper attention is paid and crucial details prudently attended to.

Having said that, nurses may also occasionally find themselves in the role of patient. This can bode well for the nurse's own care in terms of self-advocacy, but also for the development of empathy for what patients encounter as they navigate the labyrinthine healthcare system.

Living on both sides of the stethoscope can be eye-opening, and the nurse can take advantage of such exposure in pursuit of many positive repercussions.

Turning the tables

There's a popular notion that nurses and doctors make the worst patients.

This may or may not be true; perhaps this perception arises from the fact that healthcare professionals know what they need and may be more inclined to be assertive in relation to their care. Such assertiveness can be perceived as demanding by nurses or doctors who are accustomed to acquiescent patients who ask few questions and simply defer to the professionals.

When given the chance to be on the other end of the stethoscope, the nurse has a golden opportunity to walk a mile in patients' shoes. The nurse can observe how she is treated and spoken to, how certain corners are cut, and the ways in which her healthcare team approach her and her needs.

If what the nurse sees is positive, this can be encouraging. If things are not quite right, it may be maddening and highly frustrating indeed.

To be on the receiving end of healthcare delivery is an opportunity for the nurse to be in a vulnerable position. Such vulnerability may feel foreign, but there are myriad potential lessons inherent in such an experience.

The chronic and the acute

Illness and disability can be both hidden and glaringly obvious. A nurse with an autoimmune condition, bipolar disorder or diabetes may not appear sick, but he or she may be suffering significantly just below the surface. A nurse with severe rheumatoid arthritis or a below-the-knee amputation will have a more noticeable disability.

Nonetheless, whether a condition is chronic or acute, the affected nurse will likely need medical care quite regularly. Those interactions with the system and the professionals who populate it are golden opportunities for the nurse to walk in the moccasins of a patient, be on the receiving end of care and learn valuable lessons from the vantage point of sitting on the exam table rather than standing beside it.

Leveraging the experience for good

As stated above, disabilities and illnesses can be both hidden and obvious, but the interface with the healthcare system is basically the same.

A nurse hospitalized following orthopedic surgery has the chance to assess how his fellow nurses perform following surgical intervention. The diabetic nurse with chronic foot ulcers navigates the wound clinic every week and sees what it's like for patients to do the same.

One responsibility of nurses receiving suboptimal care is to speak up in the face of errors, omissions and substandard nursing. A nurse knows what to look for, so if post-op care doesn't make the grade, it is the nurse's responsibility to meet with the unit manager, write a letter to the CNO, report the hospital to the insurance company footing the bill and hold the facility responsible.

A nurse's opinion matters, and one can never accurately assess how a powerfully worded complaint may result in long-lasting changes that will impact thousands of patients for years to come.

No nurse wants to be a patient, but many of us end up in the role whether we like it or not. How we leverage that experience for the greater good may be the most positive outcome of all.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway and a widely read freelance nurse writer. Keith is also the co-host of RNFM Radio, a popular Internet radio station devoted to the nursing profession. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.

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