This is a personal perspective and shared experience. As with all my posts, they focus on personal growth, wellness, lifestyle and joy, not medical advice.
I thought I was a good listener, yet I find myself learning something new every day about the art of listening from my patients.
As I navigate the world of telemedicine, I discover new ways to connect while conversing via video or phone. I’ve become aware that listening, actively and intuitively is non-negotiable in my conversations. The first thing I have to consider every day are the factors that could affect the nurse-patient exchange (for example: assess for a clear connection, environmental noise, ability to focus, turn off distractors like pre-scheduled email pop-ups or sound alerts). I notice during phone conversations, without the aid of visuals cues, I can still listen for nuanced verbal cues which provide insight into a patient’s primary concern and personality. I take a few minutes to prepare prior to the visit to ensure I do not miss these subtle cues due to easily avoidable distractions.
I may not have all the answers up-front nor can I expect that every conversation will yield opportunities for an in-depth assessment of a patient’s emotional needs, however my goal is to be focused and for my patient to feel heard, understood, and validated. This plays a significant role in making the patient feel at ease and will instantly allow for a supportive exchange- in spite of us not meeting face to face.
Working remotely with breast cancer patients who are at different points in their journey has highlighted for me the need for perfecting my listening skills, especially in the advent of video conferencing as part of my nursing practice. We discuss many details of the diagnosis, plan appointments, consider barriers to care, open up about personal concerns, etc. For this reason, my listening skills are a critical factor in my effectiveness as an oncology nurse navigator.
Preparing myself to be a better listener and to receiving the messages within the conversation prompts me to ask the right follow-up questions which yields a more in-depth understanding of my patient’s needs. Yes, there are key pieces of information I am gathering from the triage portion of my inquiry (who, what, where, when, how) but I feel I serve my patient best when I capture and address their very specific and personal concern of the moment, which could be as simple moving an appointment time because it poses a conflict with child care, as an example. As the listener, it’s important to take note of the details which impact the overall outcome of the call.
Unlike in-person clinic visits, on video I cannot give my patient a hug or hold her hand and reassure her when she is anxious. She cannot look into my eyes to receive my energy in person and confirm that I am present and trustworthy. It is my responsibility to establish that trust via tone, attentiveness and active listening skills.
I feel we all have an important story to share and we all desire to be heard. My initial approach with my patients is to make the effort to learn about their story. What has happened in their cancer journey up until this moment? I start with an open ended question, always staying mindful that not all patients are ready to be verbal about their feelings during our visit. Of note, this is about their needs and my ability to accurately assess them in this moment with what they are able and willing to discuss.
I continue to research this topic and share with my colleagues. As oncology nurse navigators, we are eager to share best practices. The art of listening continues to be an area of personal development for myself. I see it as a life skill with transformative power.
I would love to hear your feedback on areas of interest in personal and professional development. I will be revisiting this and other nursing topics of interest in the coming months.
To learn more about me, visit the ‘About’ page linked here.