Effective Communication Skills for the ‘Caring’ Nurse
‘People wouldn’t become nurses if they didn’t care …they’d become engineers ….’ This was a suggestion made to me as I set about writing Vocational English for Nursing (Pearson, 2010, 2012). At face value, this statement would appear entirely valid; nursing is after all the ultimate caring profession. However time spent in any healthcare environment reveals a more complex situation. It’s not simply a question of caring or having a compassionate nature – it’s human nature to care. (I’m sure even engineers care.) The issue is, does it come across? And, as far as our learners are concerned, does it come across in English? This article seeks to outline the nature of communication in a nursing context and the implications for the ESP classroom.
What is nursing all about?
Responsible nursing is not simply the ability to successfully carry out a series of routine procedures – be they taking a blood sample, dressing a wound or administering medication. Neither is it about treating the patient purely on a physical level. Nursing is a holistic process, taking into consideration not only the psychological, but any socio-cultural, environmental and politico-economic features of a disease and its treatment, not to mention the impact on patients and their families. From a communication perspective, the following functions, as outlined by the Nursing Code of Practice (NMC): respecting confidentiality; sharing, in a way they can understand, information people want or need to know about their health; accurate record keeping, reinforce the fact that effective spoken and written skills are essential to the toolkit of the responsible nurse and therefore should be integral to any course in this field. Results of effective communication
The positive results of effective communication are well documented and are essential in achieving, amongst others, increased recovery rates, a sense of safety and protection, improved levels of patient satisfaction and greater adherence to treatment options. Aside from these, successful communication through a patient-centred approach also serves to reassure relatives that their loved ones are receiving the necessary treatment. Within the nursing field, such skills are considered indicative of best practice (McCabe and Timmins, 2006).
Effective communication and the ESP classroom
However, as with many things in life, it is often a question of perception. According to Timmins (2007) ‘Statistics show that [native speaker] nurses often rate their communication skills higher than their patients.’ So what constitutes effective communication skills in this particular context? Theorists from the field of nursing communications highlight the need for comprehensible pronunciation, active listening skills, non-verbal communication and the ability to bridge professional and lay language. To this skill-base I would also add written communication. In addition, cultural awareness, which, inextricably linked with language, plays a very important role in achieving effective communication in the healthcare environment.
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Having established the professional outcomes, it is important to then consider how these might translate into the teaching of English to non-native speaker nurses.
• Improving verbal communication skills is about enhancing the ability to use effective strategies to repair or avoid possible breakdown in communication; encouraging the use of patient-friendly language and familiarizing the nurse with language (euphemisms, and colloquialisms) commonly used by patients. Patient education is an important aspect of the nurse’s role and learners should be familiar with the language used in patient educational leaflets and websites. Communication with other healthcare professionals also requires a certain level of comfort when employing medical terminology.
Effective Communication Skills for the...
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