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Building Nurse-Patient Relationships in Family Practice

Submitted by Admin on April 5, 2010, 8:04 am
Peggy O'Donnell, ANP

The nurse-patient relationship is always a crucial aspect of healthcare. In the words of one patient to a nurse, "Patients don't care what you know. They want to know that you care."

However, the way that nurses convey a caring attitude to their patients varies between settings. A nurse caring for a patient who's just been brought into the emergency room with a fractured skull, a nurse who's giving a first-grader a vaccination, and a nurse who's helping a senior learn to manage their diabetes all use very different styles of communication.

For nurses who are excellent communicators and enjoy building long-term relationships with patients, working in family practice might be a rewarding career choice. We chatted with nurse practitioner Peggy O’Donnell, ANP, BC, MS, RN, about the relationships she's built over 14 years of family practice.

With a background in hospital nursing, O'Donnell's had plenty of experience communicating with patients in contrasting settings. "When I was in the hospital, it's a lot of treat-the-street," she recalls. "You take care of patients for a short period of time and then they're gone."

While O'Donnell enjoyed a successful hospital nursing career, the opportunity to build rich, ongoing relationships with patients was one of the aspects that drew her to family practice. "Here they keep coming back and you're part of their lives," she says.

At her family practice in Lynbrook, New York, O'Donnell cares for patients across the entire lifespan, with the exception of infants. "Each stage of people's life poses different issues," she says. "I have lots of extended families, cousins and sisters and in-laws. Once you get to know the families, then you understand the family dynamics, and then you understand the personality constructs, and you can fit it right into who they are. I have a couple families where I have four generations of the family in my practice."

When the nurse-patient relationship has that kind of solid foundation, O'Donnell says, trust is a natural result. "And when that trust factor is there, that's when you can really work with people on lifestyle changes and health maintenance," she says.

A keen observer and understanding listener, O'Donnell adjusts her communication style to the needs of each patient. As a patient moves through various periods of development, her relationship with him or her develops and changes. For example, she says, as children move through adolescence, it's essential to maintain a strong relationship. "It's important at that delicate, difficult time that the teenager or adolescent feels they have someone they can talk to and ask questions," she explains. "You're a person that they can trust in their world, which is really rewarding for me."

O'Donnell continues caring for her patients as they move into adulthood. "They go off to college, and they still keep in touch in college," she says, "and then they go off and get married....You're really part of people's growth and development."

Even after a decade and a half of building relationships, O'Donnell is sometimes surprised by the depth of her patients' trust and belief in her. "Patients will see these super-fancy specialists, at the top of their field, on such-and-such an issue, and then they'll come back to me and say, 'Well, what do you think?'" she recounts. "They really want the person that knows them well, that they have that trust with, that they've built that relationship with."

Patient quotation in introductory paragraph is cited from: Cappabianca, Agnes. "Strengthening the Nurse-Patient Relationship: "What Is the Most Important Thing I Can Do for You Today?"". Creative Nursing. FindArticles.com. 21 Mar, 2010. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7514/is_200907/ai_n35628018/

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