Almost 40% of U.S. patients routinely use alternative medicine. That number is consistently increasing as alternative methods become more widely available.
However, not as many patients inform their physicians about their preferences. It’s easy for the average patient to fear potential stigmas or judgment by their doctors, so they keep quiet about wanting to know more about alternative options.
As a nurse, you can mediate between patients and doctors. You might not be able to make medical decisions. Still, you can serve as an informed and educated communicator, explaining to doctors why certain patients prefer alternative medications and informing your patients about the impact those alternative solutions can have — positive or negative.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can serve patients who prefer alternative medicine and why it’s becoming more popular.
The Rise of Medical Skepticism
Some people have preferred alternative medicine for years. However, one of the biggest reasons it’s growing in popularity so quickly is the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, and even now, people are looking toward herbal remedies, vitamins, and other holistic methods to help treat certain conditions — or at least the associated symptoms.
This sentiment is primarily due to increased medical distrust caused by the pandemic. People were given so much misinformation for so long that they began to lose faith in the healthcare system. As you might expect, that’s not an easy pill to swallow for many people in the medical field — especially doctors.
As a nurse, you can restore faith by talking to your patients about combining integrative and complementary medicine. Start by discussing their current lifestyle and how their daily choices could impact their health. For example, physical activity, stress levels, sleep habits, and nutrition could affect eye health, immune system resiliency, and basic functions. These habits may even be linked to underlying health conditions.
Consider working with your patients to bridge the gap between holistic and traditional medicine. Suggest lifestyle changes that can boost their immune system and improve their overall well-being, such as:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Taking proper supplements
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol consumption
When your patients trust that you have their well-being at heart, they’re more likely to respond positively to a traditional medication when necessary, on top of lifestyle changes.
Serve as a Mediator
When you’re working with a patient who is already using alternative or complementary medicine, they might be hesitant to talk about it with the doctor. As a nurse, it’s essential to have strong communication skills and remain focused on your patient rather than on any conflict that might arise.
Healthcare staffs work best when nurses and doctors make decisions together and carry out plans that best serve each patient.
When serving as a mediator, focus on the patient’s medical issues rather than the person, themselves. For example, if you know the doctor you’re working with has strong opinions on alternative medicine, suggest that you provide the most direct communication with the patient to keep them comfortable from feeling any embarrassment or guilt.
Finally, do your best to get as much out of patient interviews as possible. A face-to-face conversation will help the patient to feel more comfortable and safe in a medical setting. Show compassion and be soft-spoken during those interviews, and your patient will likely be more willing to open up about their medical history and practices to treat themselves.
You’ll learn more about their demeanor, how serious they are about alternative medicine, and how to act around them to make them feel comfortable. That’s information you can relay to the doctor, so you’re both on the same page before the patient is seen by their physician.
Put Medicine First
Not all forms of alternative medicine are dangerous. Some have even proven to be effective when used alongside standard treatment. But unfortunately, some alternative medical treatments can be harmful — or even deadly without the right education and monitoring.
Alternative therapy can pose risks like:
- Delaying surgeries or other traditional forms of necessary treatment
- Increasing the risk of cancer or other illnesses
- Increasing the risk of patients exposed to harmful contaminants or ingredients
One of the best things you can do as a nurse is to educate your patients as much as possible. That doesn’t mean judging them or criticizing their personal healthcare choices. Instead, keep them informed about the potential risks of certain alternative medicines and provide them with a treatment plan. In some cases, there’s nothing wrong with continuing holistic practices. However, if a patient has a severe condition or illness, it’s crucial holistic practices only complement traditional forms of treatment.
When your patient is willing to combine the two and agrees to regular monitoring if they want to stick with alternative medicine, you’re also more likely to get doctors on board without judgment.
As holistic and alternative treatments grow in popularity, consider your responsibilities to your patients. You can serve them with honesty, education, and kindness while ensuring they get the treatment they need for whatever condition they are facing.
There’s no doubt that the medical industry has faced some significant challenges over the last few years. COVID-19 has been particularly disruptive in a variety of areas. Among the most notable effects is the pandemic has exacerbated burnout to the extent that healthcare personnel are leaving the industry en masse. This means there is a shortage of experienced medical professionals in a number of fields. Nurses are among those roles in which there is an urgent need for skilled leaders who are able to provide the care most relevant to contemporary patients.
As such, this challenge can also be seen to offer opportunities. On a wider scale, the industry must make cultural changes to create a more supportive space for staff. For nurses, however, this also presents chances to demonstrate they have the agile skill sets to provide the more rounded care and patient management practices that are growing in demand.
We’re going to take a closer look at how nurses can take a holistic approach to patient care.
Considerations for the First Point of Contact
Nurses are in a position of both privilege and pressure. They are always on the front lines of any medical situation. It also means they have the chance to gain important early insights into a patient’s well-being and circumstances that can inform a holistic approach to treatment. This can apply in all situations whereby nurses are the first point of contact, whether in hospitals, primary care clinics, or community outreach.
When assessing a patient’s needs for the first time, it’s important here to take the holistic approach. Every medical situation also has knock-on effects when it comes to mental, emotional, and even economic well-being. Utilizing the time of first contact well can also open nurses to information regarding the patient’s cultural needs. Taking notes here on more than simply the strict medical elements can ensure all personnel from first contact onward are fully apprised of the holistic requirements of the patient.
Nurses’ first contact position can also put them at a vital point to identify the most relevant resources. Where patients are being assessed or treated for symptoms that may put additional strain on their mental wellbeing, nurses can offer advice about community mental health services. Where patients have avoided treatment in the past or have some hesitancy now due to money issues, it may be helpful to provide them with information about local organizations or programs that can help. Part of the key here is taking some time to prepare data on such resources in advance so this is easy to access at the times patients need it.
Utilizing Alternative Medicine
There is an increasing willingness by patients to explore the potential of alternative sources of medicine and treatment. Part of this is due to a desire to be less reliant on harsh prescription drugs, particularly opioids. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in opposition to traditional treatments. Rather, it’s often a method to support their other treatments and take back a certain amount of control during an experience in which many patients feel helpless. It’s also worth noting many alternative treatments are focused on the whole self rather than individual symptoms.
As such, nurses can take a more holistic approach to patient care by providing patients with their support in respect of alternative treatments. The first consideration here is to interact with the patient from an empathetic position. It can be too easy to respond to questions about non-traditional treatments with immediate dismissal (“Oh; that’s ignorant ‘woo” science.”). Rather, nurses should seek to understand why the patient is keen to explore alternatives to mainstream treatment. Being open in communication here is an especially powerful tool for nurses. It not only shows the patient that the medical professional respects their perspectives — it can also reduce the anxiety they may be feeling.
It’s also important to recognize how certain forms of treatment previously considered to fall under the “alternative” banner are being adopted as part of mainstream care. As such, nurses can be effective in providing holistic care by keeping up with research into not just traditional treatments but alternative therapies, too. This enables nurses to give the most relevant and safe advice to patients when there are inquiries into different treatment options.
Helping Patients Help Themselves
One of the most vital ways nurses can take a holistic approach to patient care is to consider beyond the supportive structure of the clinic or hospital. Specifically, with regard to how the patient is able to be their own best advocate for their health and handle the conditions they’re living with.
It’s important to establish tools and practices to empower patients in taking control of their holistic care. This not only helps the whole patient stay healthy, but it also ensures their lifestyle both minimizes exacerbation of a condition and supports the treatments they receive during direct care.
A prime example of this is in substance abuse treatments. Medical professionals in this field are increasingly aware of the need to treat the whole patient. This is particularly important given how experiences of stress and the presence of mental health comorbidities can trigger reliance on harmful substances. Away from rehabilitation facilities, patients need to be able to manage these elements independently to prevent falling back into addictive behavior patterns. As such, nurses can guide patients to utilize helpful tools here. Daily meditation practices, journaling activities, and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can assist patients in taking control of their holistic well-being.
A holistic approach to nursing is not just relevant to contemporary medicine. It can also demonstrate patient-first skills in healthcare leadership at a time in which there is a clear gap here. Nurses can be effective in this regard by creating impactful experiences at the point of first contact with patients. It’s also wise to act in an empathetic and well-informed way to provide advice on how alternative medicines can support traditional areas of care. To best attend to the whole patient, it’s vital to empower them to take control of their well-being away from supervised care, too.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and vicariously experience the feelings of another person. It’s a skill that allows you to step into the shoes of patients and fully recognize their needs. In the field of healthcare, your ability to employ empathy can mean life or death for patients.
While there is a limit to how much empathy a nurse can provide — getting too close can affect your ability to think critically and stay level-headed, after all — empathy is a powerful tool that helps nurses effectively do their jobs. Limiting yourself to sympathy only allows you to assess a patient’s needs from your perspective, which may be clouded with subconscious biases. On the other hand, employing empathy at the right times can help you achieve better health outcomes and reinforce patient cooperation with your treatment plans.
Nurses — especially those who serve diverse populations — must increasingly practice empathy to continuously improve their care. We’ll explore four ways you can incorporate more empathy into your practice and the benefits of doing so.
Increase Your Cultural Sensitivity With Formal Training
When you form authentic connections with your patients, they’re far more likely to listen to your recommendations, which allows their treatment plans to take effect. When clinicians are professionally trained communicators, patient adherence can increase by 12%.
However, as our world grows more diverse, good communication is no longer just about being good with words. Nurses must be empathetic, culturally sensitive communicators who can lead diverse peers and connect with diverse patients.
To actively boost your cultural sensitivity, consider getting professional cross-cultural awareness training. Training and certificates are offered by colleges like Central Washington University, professional organizations, and more. Take your learnings a step further by considering how cultural differences can impact medical opinions — for example, by recognizing that some religions disallow blood transfusions.
As you graduate from these programs — and even while you’re in the learning process — find ways to implement your new insights into your work. Then, get feedback from your patients, as well as any coworkers who witness your interactions. As an example, you can practice educating your patients or identifying effective alternatives when they disagree with your ideal treatment plan, rather than pushing your opinion. Post-appointment, you can follow up with your patients to get their satisfaction rating.
Global communication courses can also help you overcome language barriers and identify universal gestures that help you communicate with patients. However, it’s important not to forget to read between the lines. To uplevel your empathy, carefully observe your patients for nonverbal signs of discomfort or satisfaction.
Practice Your Empathetic Listening Skills With Professionals
The absence of empathy in nursing has led to disastrous medical outcomes over the years, especially for Black women. Fatalities are up to four times more common for African American mothers than for white women. Additionally, Black women often receive prenatal care much later in their pregnancies.
While these issues can be related to several factors — from subconscious biases to limited access to family planning tools — these health disparities all point to a need for increased empathy. Nurses, especially those working with historically underserved populations, must do their part in reducing patient mortality rates by practicing their empathetic listening skills to improve patient outcomes.
Work with a mentor in the nursing field who can help you practice your empathic listening skills on a regular basis. Specific listening skills you can work on include:
- Asking open-ended questions
- Listening carefully for what your patients are experiencing (and what details they’re omitting
- Restating patients’ statements or feelings to get clarification and show you’re listening
- Using your body language (like eye contact and open arms) to encourage patients to let down their walls
- Avoiding assumptions
Seasoned nurses can give you feedback on how you’re responding to your patients in difficult situations. Additionally, you can request that they help you build a list of open-ended questions to ask your patients. Mentorship programs may be available at your workplace, although you can always get matched with a mentor through the American Nurses Association or by reaching out to a senior you trust.
Recognizing Symptoms Aren’t Black and White
Diverse individuals don’t always experience medical conditions in the same way. Women are 20% more likely than men to develop heart failure or die within five years of a severe heart attack. This is in part due to disparities in access to diagnoses and frequency of care by cardiovascular care specialists in hospitals. Poor female patient outcomes are also exacerbated by the fact that women experience different heart attack symptoms than men, which has led to limited treatments and therapies.
Empathy can transform outcomes. By treating patients based on their unique demographics, backgrounds, and medical histories, you can offer better preventative and urgent care. In particular, nurses must educate themselves about how medical conditions can appear in minority and underserved groups to avoid missing any potential symptoms of a harmful medical condition.
One action you can take to build your empathetic viewpoint is signing up for continuing education courses in the nursing field. Take a handful of newly updated classes that are relevant to your field at least once a year. As research brings more medical information about diverse populations to light, nursing practices will evolve and you’ll continue to improve your capability as an empathetic nurse. Taking this step will help you stay informed about how to personalize your treatments.
Additionally, seek case studies from medical journals that outline new findings about disparities in patient symptoms, especially for conditions you frequently treat. For example, you can study the relationship between COVID-19 symptoms and ethnic backgrounds or learn about how different races are affected by depression in different ways.
Empathy can also help nurses support each other. As the medical field continues to face growing issues with burnout, with nearly 40% of nurses dreading work each year, nurses who can empathize with their colleagues can help alleviate their stress (and vice versa). Nurses must increasingly focus on developing strong bonds — bonds that overcome cultural and personal differences — to recognize the signs of burnout in each other.
Creating a support network can help you effectively treat patients long-term instead of running into compassion fatigue. Network with your colleagues, as well as other nurses in your area, to build a formal support group that meets regularly and chats on a Facebook Group or Discord server. Use this group to share stories or simply destress around people who understand your experiences, as long as you ensure you are not violating HIPAA regulations.
Empathy is the Heart of Nursing
Empathy will always be at the heart of good nursing. While sympathy can help us react in a caring manner, empathy allows nurses to fully step into their patients’ shoes and fully understand their needs. This is essential for ever-improving outcomes. Since every patient communicates and experiences medical conditions differently, acting with empathy can help you find the right treatment plans for every individual. Empathy can also help you avoid subconscious biases that can lead to inequitable treatment.
Empathetic nurses can also support each other through the challenges of nursing. As a result, it can lead to reduced burnout, allowing nurses to continue caring for patients as they best can.
If you’re one of the 60-65% of nurses who regularly works 12-hour shifts, it can be hard to find time to sit down for a break. Of course, on some shifts, it may feel like there isn’t even time for a bathroom break, but you really don’t want that to become the norm, do you?
Working at that frenetic pace makes it hard to get the nutrition you need, the sleep your body requires, or the overall care that’s essential to your well-being. As a result, it’s easy for nurses to run themselves into the ground. But you can’t pour from an empty cup, and no matter how passionate you are about your work, sacrificing your own wellbeing will not help you or your patients.
Think about the things you ask patients about their daily diets and activities, perhaps even where they buy groceries or how often they go for walks. As a nurse, you can also offer great constructive advice on healthy eating, sleep hygiene, and exercise habits.
Are you following your own advice, though? Have you ever suspected that you might look less healthy than some of your patients? If you know that you’ve been cutting corners, the time to reconsider your daily routines and habits is NOW. However, like many nurses, you might well ask at this point, “Get real: is it even possible to get enough sleep, exercise, and eat all my fruits and veggies on such a crazy schedule?”
The answer is yes. Your skillset as a nurse makes you an outstanding planner, and by now even a scout might be cowed to see how well you prepare yourself for just about anything. So here are three basic principles to building a healthier lifestyle on an impossible schedule…
Establish a (doable) routine
You might not have the exact same work schedule each week, but chances are you’ll have the same number of days off. After a while, you’ll get to know the flow of your work schedule, and you can adjust the rest of your life around it.
Once you’re able to do that, establish a routine for yourself with your well-being in mind.
Routines make it easier to stick to healthy habits and practice self-care every day. They also allow you to not only set realistic health goals but reach them through small daily acts.
While everyone’s routine will look different, yours might include things like
- Waking up at the same time each day
- Cooking a healthy breakfast
- Exercising for 10-30 minutes
- Household chores
- Socializing with friends or family
- Spending time outdoors
- Going to sleep at the same time each night
In addition to helping you reach your health goals, routines have been known to improve mental health, especially by reducing stress. When you have a career that often feels overwhelming or uncertain, that can make a big difference.
Apply your planning skills to manage on-the-go fuel supplies
When you’re in the middle of a 12-hour shift and haven’t had a chance to sit down for a meal, it can be tempting to go for whatever is available. Thus, cops really do down sugary donuts with their coffee, first responders grab 50% of their day’s allowance of fat in a fast burger, and hospital workers throw cash into the nearest vending machine. The latter sounds almost healthy by comparison, but are you really winning if you select the marked-up (and slightly stale) trail mix or sunflower seeds over a marked-up (and slightly stale) candy bar?
If you have a hard time finding healthy snacks at work, use those planning skills that helped you get through nursing school and do some quick “prepping” on your days off. There are plenty of healthy, on-the-go snacks you can bring to work in an insulated snack bag, including
- Fresh Trail mix (even if you like the usual vending mix of all peanuts and dried dates, your own will be tastier and less costly)
- Fruits and veggies (berries, bananas, apples, raw veggie sticks – anything portable and not messy that can be eaten with one hand)
- Protein bars (should have at least 8 grams of protein and less than 13g of sugar – otherwise it’s little more than an expensive, high-calorie candy bar)
- Smoothies/protein shakes
You can either carry these snacks around with you or leave them in a specific place at work and quickly give yourself a bit of fuel whenever you have a minute or two. Here are some solid “do/don’t” tips that may help as well.
Start with what you KNOW you can do
You might think that because your schedule is so busy, you don’t have time to fuel your body properly, stay active, or even get enough sleep.
That isn’t true, but it might take a few adjustments and creativity to take care of yourself properly. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to start small.
You don’t need to go to the gym each day for an hour-long workout. Instead, maximize short physical activities and get in longer workouts more sporadically. Shorter workouts are easier to commit to and will keep you motivated to stick with an exercise regimen, even when you’re busy.
When it comes to nutrition, meal prepping is your friend. We touched on packing snacks for yourself, but it’s also easy to pack healthy meals for work as well. Here are some savvy fast-but-healthy lunch suggestions from Reddit nurses.
And when it comes to sleep goals, it can be tempting to give up, but if you didn’t give up on nursing, finding ways to get more rest should be a breeze.
Small changes can make a big difference to your overall health. As a nurse, your well-being matters. Keep these ideas in mind to dedicate yourself to realistic whole-body nutrition, better sleep, and more physical activity to keep you healthy, so you can provide the best possible care to others.
The medical field relies upon teams of highly skilled workers. From clinical competency to medical administration, everyone who is a part of a patient’s care has to be well trained and able to carry out their particular role to a high standard. However, nurses in particular also need an array of soft skills to achieve their maximum potential in the medical field.
Soft skills are those skills that don’t necessarily require formal training and can be used in an array of situations. They are “core” skills and act like glue to help everything else work smoothly. In fact, 91% of organizations want more soft skills, cited as one of the four major trends transforming workplaces.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the most important soft skills for nurses.
Nurses hear a lot about “empathy” and its importance. Simply put, being empathetic means that you can understand the feelings or emotions of other people and change your behavior to accommodate them. In health care, this ensures that every patient feels valued and heard.
For example, if you work in medical coding and billing, you must have the ability to empathize with the patient to reduce their stress around the financial strain that may be caused by chronic illnesses or expensive fees. You could do this by simply having an understanding conversation with the patient or could even rearrange their fees and payments to match the circumstances of that patient.
Most nurses understand the importance of showing empathy towards patients. However, sometimes we forget to empathize with our peers. This is an issue, as the medical field has faced a burnout problem for several years. While wider change is needed to combat burnout effectively, nurses can ease the burden on one another by actively empathizing with colleagues who are struggling or going through burnout.
Effective communication is vital in all health care settings — but unfortunately, only 5.9% of organizations communicate their goals on a daily basis. Medical practices are often fast-paced, high-pressure environments that require everyone to be on the same page. However, breakdowns in communication still occur and can have damaging effects on patients, physicians, nurses, and medical practices as a whole.
To overcome these issues, nurses can seek further training and should aim for a professional-but-friendly tone at all times. This shows the folks at your practice that they are valued, while you still ensure that important information is still communicated.
Strong communication skills also help nurses make a positive first impression. This is important, as patients find it difficult to trust medical professionals who they haven’t met before. But, by smiling, actively listening, and paying attention to non-verbal cues, nurses can ensure that they connect with a new patient within a matter of minutes. This will save time, money, and effort in the long run, as patients are far more likely to follow the advice of a medical professional that they trust.
Health care settings are filled with multi-talented professionals from an array of backgrounds and specialties. However, this melting pot of skills, experience, and specialisms can only work cohesively if everyone is invested in teamwork.
However, not everyone is a born “team player.” Left unchecked, this can cause disarray in a patient’s experience and serious friction in the hospital, clinic, or office. To overcome this, management must emphasize the importance of teamwork and can point towards research that shows that teamwork improves the quality of care that patients receive.
While team-building activities sound fun, you may not have the time or resources to engage in traditional bonding exercises like team Q and As or days out. Instead, you can forge strong bonds between your team members by teaching them about the other roles that surround them. This means that folks will understand the skills of those around them better, and will be more likely to work efficiently and in unison.
Effective time management is the product of organization, forward-thinking, and clear communication. It’s a tough skill to develop but without it, patients are left waiting, and medical professionals can end up logging hours of avoidable overtime every week.
Developing effective time management requires a holistic approach to your work. You have to assess where you’re losing time and may need to suggest operational changes that are knocking you off course during your day. Alternatively, you might just need to organize your day a little more thoroughly or build in more slack time when possible.
The easiest way to further develop time management skills is to set pen to paper before and after each shift. Before your shift starts, you can plan out your day to see how long you have to complete each task or activity. Then, at the end of the day, return to the plan to see where you lost time or underestimated the difficulty of a task or activity. This will ensure you don’t overcommit your time and gives you a plan to follow throughout the day.
We all have “soft” skills that we picked up from our lives before working in the medical field, but few of us actively develop these skills when we land a job. However, paying attention to soft skills will pay dividends in the long run, as your improved ability to communicate, work with teams, empathize with patients, and manage your time will improve your “hard” skills and allow you to move through your day with greater efficiency.