No matter how hard you try to avoid it, it happens. The nurse becomes the patient. Whether you’ve given birth, had surgery, or a horrible case of the flu, there are times in life when conditions will send you to the hospital. And being on the proverbial other side of the hospital bed, as Jenny Ang, MSN, ARNP, FNP-BC, an NP in Washington State, says. So how can nurses be good patients?

“When the caregiver suddenly becomes the one who needs care, it’s an extremely unsettling, vulnerable, and helpless feeling,” says Ang. “Nurse can be good patients by showing patience, kindness, and compassion to their caregivers, while trying not to micromanage their health care professionals.”

Over the years, Ang has cared for many doctors and nurses in the ICU for a number of diagnoses in critical situations. She says that, for the most part, these patients have been good ones. But it’s because they had their questions answered, were updated regularly on their care, and understood both the risks as well as the rationale behind what was being done for them. So what is a “not good patient” in Ang’s opinion? “Someone who requires an excessive, grossly unfair amount of time and resources from a nurse, compared to a patient in a similar circumstance,” she says. “I have had only one patient who was a nurse act this way, but countless other non-health care people behave like this.”

Ang says that as nurses, you tend to advocate for the best care for your patients. “When we become the patient, we tend to advocate for ourselves like a mama grizzly bear protecting her cubs.”

What can you do to be a good patient? Ang has some tips:

  • Remember that your professional judgement is clouded when the case is personal.
  • Remember that you’re in a vulnerable state.
  • Don’t lash out at your health care providers out of defensiveness.
  • Don’t micromanage your health care professionals. Remember they are pros, and have sworn the same oath to do no harm, just like you have.
  • You are a professional. Remember to act like one.

“It makes many nurses defensive when they are suddenly in the position of being the patient. Like in any other field of work, it is not wrong to question a health care professional, but how you ask your question is key. Don’t be accusatory,” recommends Ang. “It is most appropriate to maintain positive, clear communication with the health care professionals caring for you when they come to check on you in your hospital room. Nurse know how the system works.”

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.
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