Nurses take what is foreign to the patient, put into perspective, and make it understandable and less frightening (Benner, 2001). This sums up ninety percent of my job, as a telephone triage nurse, on any given day. Patients call about various symptoms and illnesses, and are looking for explanation and guidance on what they need to do. Often they are worried, frightened, or just plain lost in the huge medical care system. Many of the calls we get are an acute crisis, but sometimes, they call because they want a nurse to explain to them what the doctor did not.
The socioeconomic class of callers varies. Many are college graduates and understand basic medical terms, and others never finished high school. These callers have to be taught in basic terms that a seventh-grader would comprehend. The nurse has to make a basic assessment of the caller’s understanding in the first minute or two of the call.
In determining a critical situation in my own practice, I cannot think of a particular one, but there are a particular group of callers that I enjoy teaching. Those are parents of young children with croup. These parents call alarmed and worried, because their child is experiencing respiratory difficulties. They don’t understand why. Often, they are walking out the door to the ED when the call is placed. It is a job well done when you can talk them off the ledge, and help them to understand croup is a common childhood illness, and most times, the child does well with simple homecare advice.
Callers/patients need and want to know why you are giving the education that you are (Benner, 2001). They are much more likely to comply with instructions if they understand the rationale behind it. Our role, as a teacher, is to help them understand their situation. That is exactly how I teach croup parents. I help them understand why their child is making this terrible noise, symptoms of severe distress, and treatment they can provide at home to give symptom relief. I then follow-up with them about thirty minutes later to assess for improvement, and give other instructions if need be. The parents are appreciative of the care and education, and it gives them a sense of control over the situation, to know they can manage the situation. They also know that they are not alone, and they can pick up the phone and call for support at any time.
Benner, P. (2001). From novice to expert: excellence and power in clinical nursing practice (Commemorative Ed.) Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.