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Non-nursing Knowledge and Your Nursing Career

by Keith Carlson via Multibriefs

As a nurse, you have a breadth and depth of specialized knowledge that spans both the clinical and nonclinical. Whether you work in the ICU, hospice or school nursing, you hold significant expertise in your nursing brain.

A nurse is more than just her clinically related knowledge. Have you ever considered how your non-nursing knowledge can feed and empower the nurse you are and make you a more effective clinician, researcher or educator?

Bridges of interpersonal connection

Let's say you work with children in a pediatric oncology center. When you meet with anxious parents and kids, there are many ways to put them at ease. While you can educate the parents about the side effects of chemotherapy and show the child how you'll access their portacath, this type of interaction can feel clinical and impersonal.

You can utilize skills related to motivational interviewing and emotional intelligence to connect more deeply with patients and families, but there's another level at which you can make more personalized inroads, and that's through non-nursing cultural knowledge.

Cultural knowledge means that you can use references from the wider culture to relate to your patients. This may sound superficial, but being able to talk about television, movies, sports, pop culture, music and subjects that normal people talk about every day can help patients and families relate to you. And if you work with the elderly, having some knowledge of history can also help you build bridges of interpersonal connection.

For example, you may be a home health nurse working with a 90-year-old man who served during World War II, and he frequently talks about his war experiences. Perhaps he was stationed in France and you've spent some time in France yourself — you can use these common experiences to help him feel that you understand him.

When he talks about the little French villages where he patrolled, you can relate by sharing with him about the bicycle tour you took through Provence. This type of relational conversation can build an important bridge between you.

Building trust and connection

A polymath is a person who has wide-ranging knowledge about many subjects. You don't have to be an expert in everything to be a polymath; you just need to be a person with great intellectual curiosity.

Being a nurse polymath can serve you in many ways. While your expert knowledge about your nursing specialty is the center of your "nurseness," your knowledge of other subjects — however superficial — can help build the valuable connections you need with your patients.

As a nurse, don't downplay the importance of what you know from reading books and magazines, watching movies, following sports or listening to the news. Your knowledge doesn't have to be encyclopedic, but the more you're able to relate to patients on a personal level, the deeper trust and collaboration you can build.

Allow your curiosity to guide you

The next time you're having a conversation with a patient, look for opportunities to talk about something unrelated to the patient's illness or treatment. Find ways to use cultural references or jokes to break the ice and lighten the mood.

Use curiosity as an engine of learning. You can be like a sponge that files away jokes, stories and references that you can use in patient interactions at just the right moment. This is part emotional intelligence, part savvy clinical strategy and part basic human relationships.

Common ground will get you far with patients, and if you choose to be a sponge-like polymath nurse with a vast array of knowledge about many subjects (both clinical and nonclinical), you'll have an easier time building bridges and making connections with the patients and families you serve.

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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