Nurse-patient relationship is key to improved health outcomes

The Journal for Nurses in Professional Development defines the art of nursing, the human connection between nurse and patient, as a combination of compassionate concern, openness, physical availability and empathetic attention. Nurses from a related study who demonstrated this type of care fostered stronger relationships with patients, encouraging them to be more proactive participants in their care plan.

Nurses provide their patients with a sense of safety and calmness through simple, nonverbal communication cues such as eye contact or a reassuring touch. While the modern health care industry depends on nurses far beyond the bedside, enhanced patient engagement remains nurses’ strongest tool for improving a patient’s well-being. Enhanced direct patient care helps maximize patients’ time in the hospital, and ensures their families are equipped with the knowledge and support they need when discharged.

As the health care landscape continues to evolve, the significance of the connection between nurse and patient is more important than ever. The largest segment of the U.S. health care workforce – more than 3 million, nurses possess what Dr. Joanne Disch, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellow, refers to as the nursing lens: the unique perspective to treat the whole person and not just a specific illness or injury. This person- and family-centered care extends beyond the limits of the physical body to a person and family’s social, mental and spiritual needs.

Most nursing schools incorporate tools for building nurse-patient relationships into their curricula. Leaders at Chamberlain College of Nursing have gone a step further and made care of students a part of their educational culture, with the belief that extraordinary care of nursing students is more likely to lead to extraordinary patient and family care.  

Chamberlain prepares nurses to practice the art of nursing through its concept of “Chamberlain Care.” Faculty and staff display behaviors of care, respect and professionalism, creating a culture that fosters collaboration, respect and cooperation among all, including student nurses. By modeling a care-based set of beliefs, values and behaviors expected to be exemplified by professional nurses, Chamberlain faculty impart the qualities of extraordinary nurses into their students.

Chamberlain Care is demonstrated through the support faculty and staff provide students from the beginning of their academic career through graduation, preparing each student with a strong foundation for academic success. Support services including early introduction to comprehensive academic resources and unique, hands-on experiences engage students and empower them to achieve their career goals.

“Nursing, at its core, is about caring,” says Dr. Susan Groenwald, president of Chamberlain College of Nursing. “But caring has to be more than an intention. It has to be demonstrated in concrete acts. By infusing care into all facets of our educational experience, we serve our students in a way that helps them exemplify care within the health care setting as clinicians and educators, positioning them to achieve the ultimate goal: improved well-being, empowerment and education for enhanced self-care, and increased satisfaction for patients.”

Once in the field, nurses need continued support and encouragement to enhance patient care. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, developed Transforming Care at the Bedside (TCAB) to bring the art of nursing back to the forefront of the profession. The program is designed to help hospitals increase the amount of time nurses spend in direct patient care to 70 percent.

In turn, hospitals are altering practices to give nurses more time to develop strong, authentic relationships with patients, and redesigning orientation programs to emphasize the importance of the nurse-patient relationship. New nurse hires are encouraged to put themselves in patients’ shoes to gain perspective and refine their bedside manner.

Hospital stays often evoke feelings of anxiety, whether it is you or a loved one being admitted, and navigating the care system during the stay and post-discharge can be daunting. Yet continuous improvement in health care delivery is possible through compassionate care. Nurses who provide enhanced patient care – even through subtle body language gestures like sitting alongside the patient – can ease these stresses, bolster the nurse-patient relationship and increase overall patient satisfaction and outcomes. Reflecting and fostering these qualities in nurses through education that combines curriculum and a culture of care is an integral first step to propelling them to the clinical setting.


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