The last year has given rise to a newfound reliance on Zoom and lots of virtual meetings, but excellent written communication is always needed.
If you’re not sure how your written business communication skills measure up, you can refresh your style with a few solid tips.
Whether you’re writing a quick follow-up note to a colleague, a department memo, or a message to a board of directors, your written communication needs to be polished. Like any other business skill, how well you master the art of professional communication is a reflection on you, so it’s worthwhile to take the time to do it right.
Before you write anything intended for work, think first and write second. It even helps to have an actual checklist in your head or on your desk. If you get into the habit of doing this, you’ll cut down on having to resend an email because you forgot an attachment or a link, sending communication that doesn’t answer the most important point or question, or even sending something with an unprofessional tone.
What should your checklist include? Keep these prompts in mind.
Who is this message intended for?
If it’s an informal note, you can have a more informal tone. But it’s still best to begin with a short salutation (“Hi,” is fine) and end with a thanks. If it’s a more formal communication or is in response to a larger project or initiative, make sure your tone matches that level.
What is the most important point I am trying to convey?
Readers have incredibly short attention spans and in the midst of a pandemic, these spans have become even shorter. Highlight the most important point right up front. You can even tease it a little with the subject line if you’re writing an email. Think about what you would say in person (sometimes this is referred to as the Guess What? step) and try to be that brief in your writing.
How will people find more information?
Are you referencing any kind of study, other communication, organization, or piece of essential information? If so, attach necessary files (Word docs, PDFs, slides, etc.), add hyperlinks, or note where readers can go if they need more information.
Do I have any implicit bias in this situation or with this topic?
If you’re writing about something that is controversial, that you have a differing opinion on, or where you need to really make a case for something, you’ll want to pay extra attention to the tone of your message. There’s nothing wrong with strong feelings, but written communication provides little context around what you are saying so it helps to be extra cautious.
Can anyone read this?
Anything you send creates a record, so take extra care to ensure a message that is direct, but not inflammatory. And don’t ever, no matter how tempting, say something about someone else in an email that you wouldn’t want that person to read. Aside from being exceedingly unprofessional, emails can be sent far and wide and you can’t be quite sure who will see them.
Do I have any mistakes?
Remember, spell check won’t catch improperly used words that are spelled correctly. Even if you’re in a rush, take one final look to make sure everything is accurate and that the right people are on the distribution (and their names are spelled correctly).
Send with Confidence
If you’re able to follow these steps, your written communication skills are bound to improve and will reflect positively on your professionalism. Eventually, this checklist will become a habit and will likely save you some big headaches over the years.
Nursing can be one of the most rewarding professions available to people today. Few other positions offer practitioners the ability to help people so directly and make such a large impact in their quality of life. It’s no wonder that nurses are some of the most trusted and highly thought-of professionals in our world today and have been for much of our lives.
Though nursing offers a lot of opportunity to help those in need, actually becoming a nurse can be challenging and filled with barriers that make entry into the profession quite difficult. Many aspiring nurses find themselves struggling with at least one of these barriers to entry.
Fortunately, there are ways to prepare, avoid, and fight these barriers at every curve in the road. It takes preparation and verve, but becoming a nurse is completely attainable for those with the drive to make it happen.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that many young aspiring nurses face is getting their finances in order. Student loan rates in the United States today are out of control, and nursing school is no exception. The average nurse will leave nursing school with upwards of $20,000 in debt. This amount doesn’t necessarily cover the debt acquired in any other associate’s or bachelor’s degree program prior to entering nursing school either.
Student loan debt is a significant challenge that a significant portion of the younger generation is facing. Few things can be done to resolve the larger issue without government regulation or debt relief programs, but there are some actions you can take individually. These include measures such as saving money before nursing school to avoid taking loans, working a part-time job, paying down interest while still in school, and refinancing loans for a lower interest rate.
Beyond financial barriers, there are still lingering educational barriers that could prevent aspiring nurses from attaining their goals. For instance, getting into a quality nursing school can be a real challenge. Even after getting into school, balancing rigorous coursework, homework, studying, and clinicals can be difficult, especially if you are already dealing with financial barriers that may require you to have a part-time job.
Time management is the best way to get around this barrier. Work on setting up your study schedule and sticking to it. Your days may feel full, but you should still build in time for breaks, exercise, and fun activities that will keep you from burning out. For better or worse, there still may be a time or two when you need to stay up all night — there are good (moderate doses of caffeine, exercise), and bad (energy drinks) ways to go about doing this, so be sure to take some steps to be successful.
Once you’re starting clinicals you may quickly realize that there is a lot more to helping people than originally advertised. There are long days, demanding patients, complicated treatments, and lots of stress. Many nurses will start to experience caregiver burnout, which is the feeling of being unable to care for yourself after caring for others all day.
Nursing is not an easy job and many people start to burn out relatively quickly if they don’t have a great work-life balance. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of workplace stressors that nurses bring home. This being the case, job stress leads to a high divorce rate for nurses.
The key here is to find some way to make time for yourself every day. Go for a walk on your breaks, exercise before work, read on the subway — do whatever it is that you need to do to relax and feel like you’ve had a little bit of “me” time. It goes a long way when the going gets tough.
Being a minority in the health care system isn’t necessarily easy either. Racism is still a lingering problem in health care in general. Though nursing as a profession has made many leaps and bounds, other specialties have not necessarily kept up. Chances are minority nurses will work in an environment where leadership isn’t necessarily representative of the country’s racial makeup.
Conquering these barriers takes organization and forcing greater attention to be brought to a lack of representation in the workplace. Policy change isn’t always easy to come by and many critiques have been made about policies that make it more challenging for minority students to succeed. Ultimately, greater pressure on leaders to implement reasonable changes is what is needed to continue to push the needle towards greater equality and representation in the workplace.
There are a lot of real barriers that work to prevent some aspiring nurses from achieving their goals. The barriers range from finance and education ones to physical workplace demands and social structure barriers. There is no easy way to solve all of these problems but making a plan, making time for yourself, and making people realize a need for a change is a good start.
Whether your classes were newly moved online due to coronavirus, or you’ve been enrolled in an online class from the get-go, nursing students all over the world have suddenly found themselves taking classes remotely. To help with the adjustment, here are our nine top tips for acing your online nursing classes.
1. Don’t assume online is easier.
Just because you can wear sweatpants, it doesn’t mean that online classes are a walk in the park. Plus, if you dress the part and wear your nursing scrubs, you’ll get into the nursing mindset. Some people make the mistake of assuming they can coast through an online class, believing that it will be easier than an in-person class. While online classes are certainly different from in-person ones, they’re not easier, just hard in a different way. Believing that you can slack off in your online classes purely because they are online will quickly lead to a failing grade. Taking it seriously from the beginning is the best recipe for success.
2. Get the equipment you need to succeed.
No, we’re not talking about clinical supplies. Take stock of what technology you currently have and what you might need to invest in. You’ll most likely need a reliable computer and other tools such as an external monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard as well. Test your internet connection and make sure that it can handle steaming lectures, video calls, and other high capacity tasks—the last thing you want is your internet cutting out in the middle of a quiz. If your internet isn’t up to the task, you might need to upgrade your plan or get a new router.
3. Embrace the possibilities of technology.
Online classes may be new and exciting territory for many people. They offer many fantastic possibilities for interactive learning that simply aren’t possible inside a physical classroom. In fact, many in-person classes still assign work that must be done online prior to class because the interactivity element of online programs can’t be reproduced. Online classes also allow you to connect with a much broader range of people from many different geographic areas, expanding your nursing network.
4. Participate digitally.
The words “class participation” probably conjure up images of raising your hand in class and speaking out loud to the group. While participation is definitely a part of online classes, it takes a different form. Usually, it means group forums where students host discussions on specific topics. It’s not the same as talking in person, but this format can actually be advantageous for quiet people who hate having to come up with comments on the fly. Due to the asynchronous nature of these message boards, you can read the discussion, take time to think it over, and post your comment when you’re ready.
5. Create a work from home space.
Even if you like to work from coffee shops or libraries, odds are that you’ll end up completing at least some of your classwork from home. If at all possible, try to create a work from home area outside your bedroom (you don’t want to associate schoolwork with your sleeping space). If that’s not possible, then at least set up a desk and chair so you’re not working from your bed. Try to place it near a window so you can take advantage of natural light. Be sure to set up some additional lamps, too, in case you end up working a lot at night.
6. Manage your time well.
Time management is one of the trickiest things for students to master during an online course, especially if the classes are pre-recorded and can be watched on-demand. Some people are distracted very easily, especially when working at home. They have every intention of watching that anatomy lecture and then end up spending an hour cleaning the house and folding laundry. Set aside blocks of time to work on your online classes and mark them off in your calendar, just like you would with an in-person class. Let your roommates or family know that you’re in school and ask them not to disturb you unless it’s an emergency.
7. Aim to turn your assignments in early.
Speaking of time management, turning in assignments early can help a lot with that. For in-person classes, you have to wait for the appointed day to turn in a physical paper. That’s not as much of a consideration for online classes. It’s a good idea to set a goal for yourself to turn in each assignment 1-2 days in advance. Even if you fall behind, which will happen eventually, you’ll still have that cushion built in so your assignment won’t truly be late.
8. Back up your work.
You should be doing this regardless of whether your nursing school classes are online or in person, but it’s doubly important for digital classes. Each week, if not each day, back up your work to an external hard drive as well as a cloud storage service such as Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive. If you must fill out quizzes or essays online, consider writing it in a separate document and then paste it into the field so you don’t lose your work if the submission doesn’t go through.
9. Ask for help.
Just because you’re physically alone in your house while you watch lectures doesn’t mean that you don’t have resources available to help. Your instructors should be able to help you via email, phone, or even video chat, and you also have your classmates to lean on. You might want to consider forming an online study group that meets regularly during Zoom calls to keep each other accountable. Don’t forget to explore any other resources offered for your classes, such as digital libraries.
Whether you’re taking online nursing classes by choice or not, digital courses are a new reality for today’s nursing students. Follow these nine strategies to knock your online nursing classes out of the park.
In 2014, Melisa Wilson, DNP, ARNP, ACNP-BC, the Clinical Operations Director and Pulmonary Hypertension Program Coordinator at AdventHealth Orlando, discovered a lump in her breast. Fearing a cancer diagnosis, her husband encouraged her to see her doctor immediately.
Wilson nearly didn’t. After all, she didn’t have a family history of breast cancer. She thought it was a mammary duct drying up as she was pumping breast milk less for their child.
Thankfully, she listened to her husband. An ultrasound led to a biopsy and then a diagnosis.
“I was taken entirely by surprise. The journey was swift from the time we felt the lump to diagnosis—just eight days. I did not expect to hear, ‘I am sorry, Mrs. Wilson, you have breast cancer,’” Wilson recalls.
Wilson’s diagnosis was Stage IIB HER2 positive, and for the next 18 months, her treatments included Herceptin, Perjeta, Carboplatin, Taxotere, and Neulasta. Her inspiration was her son, who had been born at 23-weeks. “He fought for his life, and in turn, it inspired me to fight for mine,” says Wilson. “My faith in God got me though.” She also had tremendous support from her family, work family, friends, and her oncology team, including her NP, MD, and LCSW.
The most challenging part of her journey, Wilson says, was financial. “The bills for oncology treatment came in quickly and were very high. I maintained my full-time job as a nurse practitioner, though, with some accommodations. I would work up to the day of chemo, take six days to recover, and then return to work for another two-week cycle,” she recalls. “It was hard, and the bills would be overwhelming to deal with at times. I remember being at chemotherapy and getting a call asking me to pay several thousand dollars to pay for a test I needed.”
Wilson beat the cancer, and she says that she now can more easily empathize with her patients because of what she’s experienced. “As an NP, I can relate to my patients on so many different levels. My patients have a rare cardiopulmonary disease—pulmonary hypertension. Most have no idea what pulmonary hypertension entails,” she says.
A few years ago, Wilson says, she had a patient who was scared about having a line placed in her chest. This needed to be done for infusion of pulmonary hypertension treatment. The patient experienced a lot of pain due to being on a subcutaneously infused machine. “One day I called her and asked for her to come in for an office visit with me. I explained that I had done as much as I could to manage her pain, and she needed to consider a different route of infusion. She was tearful and upset. She was concerned about her body image,” says Wilson. “I showed her my port, though it was different and showed her my head, which was hairless due to chemo. I told her, ‘I understand what it is like for your body to change in front of your eyes, but these are the things we do to survive.’ We cried together, and she went on to have the line placed.”
Just recently, Wilson says that her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Wilson believes that she went through her journey so that she can help others and that cancer taught her how to live and not be as fearful. “My tribulation shaped me, and now I help my Mom. I am happy to be her advocate,” says Wilson. “Being there for her and not feeling helpless is rewarding. I know it gives her comfort.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take an enormous toll on human health across the globe, its impact is felt significantly in other industries as well. Higher education has been upended with most institutions sending nursing students home to complete the rest of the year online.
If you’re a nursing student, the impact is being felt even more keenly. Clinicals have been canceled while hospitals and healthcare facilities grapple with an overwhelming number of severely ill patients. But many nursing students will still be able to continue on as best as possible by completing the academic courses they have.
If you’re a nursing student who’s now trying to finish the rest of the year by taking all your courses online, it all might feel nearly impossible. Remember you’re not alone. Your peers and even many of your professors are trying to manage this new normal.
Wondering how you’ll manage the rest of the year as an online student? Here are a few tips:
Commit to a Class Schedule
Even if your online classes don’t require a specific meeting time, block out your schedule as if they do. Scheduling time when you log in or do the work or meet with a study group will give your days and weeks structure. Write it in your schedule and plan your days around those fixed times.
Ask for Help
If you find the online format is challenging or you’re struggling without the face-to-face contact, reach out to your professors or to your school. Asking for help early will ensure that you aren’t falling behind. They might offer different perspectives to nursing students on how to work in this new format.
Stick to a Routine
You’ve probably heard this, but keeping to a regular daily routine will keep you focused. Get out of bed at the same time every day and set aside time for specific free-time activities—exercise, reading, watching TV, hobbies, or video chatting with friends and family. Try to go to bed at a regular time as well. Carving out blocks for your work and your leisure helps you set boundaries so you don’t find you’re spending too much time or not enough time on either.
Take Care of Yourself
These times are stressful, chaotic, scary, and unsettling. Accept that you aren’t going to continue on with life as you know it. Plan to make adjustments. Try to eat nutritious food and get sleep at regular intervals. If you tend to eat three meals a day, keep doing that. If you prefer to spread out your eating, eat smaller meals, but at similar times every day. Again, the routine can help you feel like you have a schedule and give you structure. If stress is interfering with your daily functioning, reach out for help either with a therapist (many are offering telehealth appointments) or a close confidant or member of your faith community.
Keep Focused on the Future
Remember why you started nursing school and keep that end goal in mind every day. Remembering your goal, and working toward it, will give you purpose and help ground you in the day-to-day business of living your life. This virus is changing the world as we know it, and it will not always be as troubling as it is now.
If you are a nursing student, I would like to welcome you to the fabulous field of nursing! There is nothing more rewarding than serving in this meaningful profession. I anticipate you plan to practice in this arena upon graduating and passing the state board exam. However, be cognizant that one of the most challenging transformations your nurse educator will be responsible for will be in assisting you to become a professional in the medical field.
I know that you think that your instructors are always nagging you about your appearance, but at the end of this process, you will understand how important this transition is in order to socialize you. You have certainly heard educators discussing first impressions and how important they are in establishing credibility and rapport with your patients and with the health care team. As health care professionals, our demeanor affects everyone around us while we are on duty. Since I am a nurse educator, I would like to disclose some of the dos and don’ts of your daily conduct that you should be aware of as a student entering the nursing profession.
Let us start with the basics: punctuality. Have you ever heard the statement that when you are on time, you are late and when you are early you are on time? This applies to both the classroom and clinical setting. It is disturbing and disruptive as latecomers arrive to the classroom once lecture or testing has begun. As you enter the room tardy, open and close the door, remove extraneous clothing (coats, scarves, etc.), retrieve necessary items from your book bag… Well, you get the idea. While you catch up with the rest of the class, your colleagues have preceded you in doing so. Consequently, the energy in the room shifts as you now settle in for a long day of studies. Have you considered how your lack of punctuality affects those around you? Maybe it is time you do so.
You may ask, “How about makeup? How much is too much?” My answer for this is that if you are putting false eyelashes on before attending class and clinical, you clearly have too much time on your hands. Why not spend those extra 10 minutes reviewing notes taken during lecture or take a quick peek at those index cards? Why not work on those intravenous drip calculations you have been struggling with? It only takes a few minutes out of your day to commit to tackling the less desirable tasks. Facial makeup now takes second place once you realize that the extra minutes you use to embellish your outward appearance would be better spent on nurturing critical thinking skills.
Do you ever have downtime? By this I mean the time you have during breaks and lunch. How do you spend this time? Watching kitten videos, catching up with the celebrities, or perhaps finishing a movie or television show? I tire of overhearing the latest on the pop stars—the Kardashians, etc. You must know that your instructors are observing you and that we are very much aware of what occupies your time. No, we are not telepathic. We know by the incomplete homework you turn in (or not) and by the multitude of excuses you have for late assignment submissions. We know by the test scores that you feel are acceptable, even when we, as instructors, know you can perform academically better. I implore you to spend all the time that you have honing your skills for nursing. There is plenty of curriculum to embrace, so do so every moment you have. I promise you will not be disappointed.
It is not cool to have your shoelaces or velcro straps untied. This look appears anything less than professional. It is hard to take anyone seriously who has not taken the time to attend to such details before entering the clinical arena. Another detail worth addressing is gum chewing. Along with the former offenses, it is difficult to accept that the person who is chewing gum is focused on anything other than smacking idly while passively listening or speaking to their audience. In my profession, potential candidates for employment were simply dismissed during an interview because of gum chewing. Do not let this be your fate while seeking employment.
Confine all cracks, cleavage, tummies, and tattoos for activities aside from nursing. Let me be clear: cover all external crevices at all times while in uniform. Having these body images in view is unprofessional and if you want to be taken seriously, save this look for socializing (e.g., dating, clubbing, or spending weekends with friends). Your patient nor your instructor desires to be distracted.
While we are noting external appearances, there is a reason for us to request that you not wear jewelry larger than stud earrings and a wedding band. The focus on you should not be about your taste in jewelry. Jewelry is a vehicle for the transmission of germs, and while I am addressing the chain of infection, allow me to broach the topic of nails. Remember your lecture on infection control: hand washing in between patients, before and after meals, after smoking and toileting? You discovered how microbes harbor under long nails and in cuticles. The studies have been done, and the results are in. Nails are to be no longer than one-quarter of an inch. You cannot effectively palpate or percuss body contours and abnormalities with long nails.
Uniforms: the glorious look of a uniform, but only if it is clean and ironed. No wrinkles are allowed on uniforms or lab coats. Your first impression from your mentors and patients should exude professionalism as noted in unsullied and tidy apparel. Your patients want to know that they are safe with you—that you will protect them, not infect them. Not only does appearance count but so do scents. I will take the fresh aroma of antiseptic soap from thoroughly washed hands any day over the stench of cigarettes. While you are observing your patients, let it be known that they are observing you, too. Leave them with an impression you can be proud of. Think about your appearance this way: when you are practicing in the clinical setting, you are interviewing for potential employment.
When you are in class or clinical, you are in a work zone. No cell phones allowed! Please stop checking them. Instead, check the cell phones at the door and place them on silent, in your pocket, or in your car. I am looking forward to the day when administrators will mandate that cell phones be left with the instructor or outside of class and clinical altogether. I am aware of the potential family emergencies, children, health-related issues, etc. There must be arrangements for emergency calls. If a protocol does exist and despite this, we find our students clinging to these electronic devices making it difficult for instructors to maintain our students’ attention. For example, during clinical orientation (I am ashamed to say) students and educators are now being in-serviced regarding prohibiting cell phone use. Cell phones are not to be used in the facilities while practicing. It should be common sense that when you are at work, you should not have time for texting, checking emails, or Instagram. You should be working, which means meeting the needs of your patients.
In meeting patient needs, how do you communicate with them? Do you use “honey,” “sweetie pie,” or other affectionate terms with your patients? This is unacceptable as it is highly probable that your patients are older than you and as such, deserve your utmost respect. Along with respect for your patients, I would also like to add appropriate communication to use with your instructor: never use obscenities. You will develop a plethora of new words in this profession, none of which is profanity. Good communication skills entail proper dialogue with your instructor, among colleagues, patients, and health care providers. Using the last name with the prefixes Miss, Mrs., or Mr. is acceptable unless your patient has given you permission to call him or her otherwise. And how will you know how you should address your patients? If the patient does not inform you that they would like to be called by another name, simply ask them after having addressed them formally. You will always gain the respect of your patients by being respectful.
Did you know that your posture and gait say so much about you? Walk like you have purpose. Strut up that hallway and answer those call lights as if it were necessary, because it is. Exhibit energy and enthusiasm as opposed to being lethargic. You may be tired, but keep it moving! Your patients want to know that you have the vigor required to take care of them. For this emotionally and physically exhausting profession, I would advise you to follow the Beatitudes: be well rested, be fit, and be well nourished. Nursing is a taxing profession. Take care of yourselves so that you can take care of others.