Seasoned telephone triage nurses know that a good majority of the time spent with callers is all about education. We teach them causes of symptoms; symptom management; medication management; and parameters to watch for that could indicate an urgent need for evaluation. However, have we stopped to think about how much our patients teach us?
Listening Skills: I know that in the years I have been doing triage, my listening skills have become much more sharpened in everything I do, not just triage. During a call, I am listening for the tone of the caller; breathing sounds of the patient; history of what led to the call and symptoms. In my day to day conversations, I also find that I am paying closer attention to what others are saying and discerning if there is an unspoken meaning or need.
Patience: During flu season, there is nothing like having a chatty caller on the line while you are worried about how many respiratory emergencies are waiting in the que. Telephone triage teaches you that the chatty caller is just as important as the respiratory emergencies that are waiting, and they have a need that is just as urgent to them as any of the others. It is up to us, as a specialized practice, to assist them with that need.
Multitasking: There is nothing like trying to carry on a conversation with a caller and attempt to get a complete history of the problem while a physician is calling you on the other line, It means you have to put that caller on hold, switch gears for a minute, and then come back to that caller and re-focus on their need. Let's not forget monitoring the que, answering a co-worker's question, and seeing an urgent e-mail that needs to be answered at the same time. It changes your way of problem solving, and I know it carries over into other areas of my life as well. I find myself thinking for most day to day problems, "What is the fastest way to come to a solution?"
Compassion: It is often said that nurses are naturally born compassionate people, I believe this is true, and even more true in telephone triage. Many times, we receive calls that deal with raw emotion and urgency. Often callers find it easier to open and honest with telephone triage nurses than they do their own physician's office. They are not face to face with us and therefore, it decreases feelings of embarrassment or anxiety. If we are truly listening to their concerns, we realize they value our knowledge and depend on us to help them solve their personal crisis. This has taught me that their mountain they are facing is huge to them, and given their situation, I would want a caring, compassionate voice on the other end of the line.
In the years since I have been in telephone triage, I have learned much more than can ever be documented, and many of the callers I have encountered have taught me many valuable life lessons. If they only knew........