Provide Patient Friendly Education: How I Learned the Hard Way

Provide Patient Friendly Education: How I Learned the Hard Way

As nurses and nursing students, our profession is rooted in scientific knowledge. We can discuss in-depth about the pathophysiology of acute kidney injury perceived in critically ill patients to medications that are classified as Cytochrome P450 inhibitors. And to the ladies of The View, I didn’t need a doctor’s stethoscope to grace you with that tad bit of knowledge. Readers, please excuse my banter. As you can see, I am insulted by their senseless remarks. Seemingly, I have digressed from the topic at hand. So, I will get back to the point.

Certainly, nurses and nursing students are well versed in disease pathophysiology and advanced pharmacology. Moreover, we play many roles that range from caregiver to advocator. However, one of the most important roles that we play is as an educator. Frequently, patients ask us to restate in simple terms what a physician said after he or she exited stage left. Some doctors are notorious for dropping big medical terms to patients, and it causes the bewildered look seen below.


A patient’s reaction when a healthcare provider drops big medical words.

At one time or another, as nurses, we may have incited the same look when explaining a procedure or a medication’s intended action. As a nurse practitioner student, I was guilty of evoking the same expression that I lovingly labeled the ” Tim Gunn Look”.  One day, a patient presented to the clinic with symptoms of atrial fibrillation. So, I informed him that I would be performing a diagnostic exam called an ECG. Unfortunately, I provided the patient with an in-depth analysis. Midway through my explanation, I realized that I was dropping medical terminology because I induced the “Tim Gunn Look” on my patient. Consequently, I apologized to the patient and restarted. Here’s how I explained it the second time.

“An ECG is a test that measures the electrical activity of your heart. I will place several sticky pads on your body and wires will be connected to those pads. This test won’t hurt. Those pads and wires will pick-up your heart beats, and the machine will draw me a picture of how your heart is performing. This printout shows me if your heart is beating normally or abnormally, and this test can give me clues about heart conditions like atrial fibrillation. Healthcare providers may order this test if a person has chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, or before a person has surgery.“

From that experience, I learned a valuable lesson. Nurses and nursing students must be cognizant in the way they are presenting information to patients. Here’s the recap.

  • Provide the information in short sentences
  • Limit the use of medical lingo.
  • Use layman terms that the patient will grasp
    • However, don’t sacrifice important info if it doesn’t translate well

As healthcare providers, we must remember that most patients are not versed in the medical language. In the future, remember Tim Gunn’s expression when you provide patient education. You don’t want that face gazing back at you.


I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section below. I can’t wait to read and learn from your experiences!