Migration for welfare (WELLMIG) Nurses within three regimes of immigration and integration into the Norwegian welfare state

Playing the role of patients

Nurses training at hospital. Photo: colourbox.com

Izabella Main writes about training for Polish nurses to enhance their empathy.

In the 1991 film The Doctor, William Hurt plays Jack MacKee, a doctor who changes his views about life, illness, and human relationships after being diagnosed with cancer. As Jack experiences life as a patient, he reflects on his relationships with his patients.

When he returns to work, he begins to teach new medical interns about the importance of showing compassion and sensitivity towards their patients, which in turn will make them better doctors. Jack puts the interns in patient gowns, assigns them various illnesses and orders tests for them to “feel” the experience that they will soon put their patients through.

Effective communication with patients

During our interview, Anna, a Polish nurse working in Oslo, described being part of a training program for nurses on how to effectively communicate with patients. Anna valued the experience enormously and thought the training where nurses assumed the roles of patients was very valuable in the nurses’ day-to-day relationship and communication with the people in their care.

The program Anna participated in is part of curriculum changes recently introduced in medical schools in Poland. New elective courses focus on patient-medical personnel communication in clinical settings. The courses last approximately 15 hours and provide an opportunity to practice how to relate to and communicate with patients effectively and empathically.

Interestingly, medical students are more willing to participate in these courses than nursing students. The latter assume that they have a certain natural ability to be compassionate gained during their nursing training.

The proof is in the pudding

Recently, I had a chance to observe a communication training for experienced nurses. They have spent anywhere from four to 12 years working in different hospitals and have recently enrolled in a Master of Nursing program. The training consisted of a number of exercises where different people played the roles of patients and nurses. We also watched fragments of instructional and fictional movies, including the 1998 film Patch Adams, starring Robin Williams.

As we chatted about the exercises and the films, the nurses questioned the need to introduce themselves to patients, shake hands, and knock on the door before entering the hospital room. A few nurses reported that patients often have no chance for privacy during treatments and discussions about their ailments.

Several nurses revealed that they lacked training to help patients in emotionally difficult situation such as delivering an unfavorable diagnosis. And yet, many of the nurses were ambivalent whether they needed to increase their communication competencies.

More research is needed

It is important to further investigate nursing training programs. How do everyday practices in hospitals in Poland and in Norway contribute to enhancing nurses’ communication skills? How important is on-going training to keep nurses up-to-date on recent advancements in the nursing profession?

Should the training focus solely on technical skills?  Or are “soft” skills such as communication styles, good manners, interpersonal relationships just as important as an ability to properly insert a catheter?

Comparatively speaking, are the soft skills nurses gain in countries of origin appropriate in a cross-cultural setting?

By Izabella Main

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