The Art of Caregiving

When we see all those nurses with their science degrees making a difference, did you ever consider that what they are doing is art? Nurses use creativity, who we are, and what we know to care for our patients in unique and incredible ways. Nurses General Nursing Knowledge

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The Art of Caregiving

Have you ever considered nurses to be artists? We have heard the phrase "Art of Caregiving" before, but what does it mean?

The Nurse is the Artist

How are nurses artists? We creatively individualize care using our good relationship with the patient. We combine this care with evidence-based practice, our knowledge base, and our nursing experience. We use these tools to educate our patients in a variety of ways. Our unique care is our work of art. Let's explore the ways nurses combine creativity and science to make this art of caregiving.

Build Trust

The best way you start creating this art is by building a good relationship with your patients. It will help you know the best way to communicate with them as an individual. This will build trust. They need to know they can trust you, and they need to be able to trust pretty quickly.

The nurse can build trust and a good relationship with the patient by communicating well. A simple introduction while looking into their eyes and giving a smile, and asking how they are doing is a great start. Keep in mind that this situation is quite possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to this person. They need to know things explained to them in a way they can understand. They need your guidance to make important decisions about their health. They need to trust you. They need you to be genuine and on their side. Tell them the plan for the day, and for heaven's sake, tell them what you are about to do to their body. We get so used to doing something as caregivers we sometimes fail to think about how scary it can be when someone is coming at us with a needle or a syringe full of an unknown fluid. A simple, "This is just saline, and I use it to flush your IV to make sure it is working properly," can build trust. Explain the process or procedure. Tell them why you are about to wipe their body down with weird-smelling wipes or why you are putting a thing that squeezes their finger on their hand. Explain to them, especially what the medication is, what are the side effects and why you are giving it. Pretty soon, they might be downing that cup of pills with no questions asked.

I was a patient in a university hospital, and I had a doctor come in without knocking and just start blabbing to me about my condition and then start touching me and listening to my lungs. He never introduced himself, told me what he was doing, or even smiled at me. I never trusted him from the start since he failed to attempt any kind of relationship with me, even though it might be a brief one. I never felt like he cared about me. He assumed that since he had a lab coat on, I would just go along with whatever he said. How could I listen to what he had to say about my situation if I didn't trust him? I said (as he was attempting to touch my body again), "No, excuse me, I don't even know your name. Just because I am a patient doesn't mean you get to touch my body when you want to. You wouldn't do that out on the street, would you?” He looked shocked, but I was trying to teach this resident that the patient is in charge of her body and what happens to it and that I had no faith in him or what he said. Good relationship building is one of the most important aspects of caregiving, possibly even THE most important. If the patient trusts you, they will be more likely to listen to you, confide in you, and reach out to you for comfort on some of the worst days of their life.

It's important to build trusting relationships with the family and/or loved ones of your patients. Many patients have close family members and spouses who are a huge part of their care and decision-making and even their disease. We all know that family members can be a challenge, and nurses have to get creative to build a good relationship with them.

I had an adult paraplegic patient whose mother had been his primary caregiver since birth. She was quite upset the morning I had this patient assigned to me, and I had to find a way to build trust and a relationship with her since it seemed like she was the one calling the shots. It had been her role for more than twenty years. I realized that her son being hospitalized meant a total loss of control and even part of her identity since she was no longer caring for her son while he was in the hospital. I decided to come up with ways she could feel like she had some control back and feel like she could do something for her critically ill son. I started asking her what their home routine was, how she handled his feedings, and the comfort positions he liked best. I even asked for her help when I needed to reposition him. She slowly warmed up to me, and we were even joking around by the end of my shift. My relationship-building efforts were worth it because they benefited my patient who was getting agitated with her behavior that morning. His blood pressure improved when I involved his loved one in his care.

Getting Creative with Science

As a nurse, we know that best practice is evidence-based. We base our care on the latest research about nursing care, disease processes and prevention of disease and illness, infection prevention, patient safety, and medications, among others. Knowing our patients, it is up to us to apply this science individually to each patient. Maybe a medication that can cause anxiety was prescribed to your patient. Since we know that our patients can be prone to that based on the relationship you have with that patient, you can be an advocate for them in that case and perhaps suggest another medication. We know that turning a patient and getting them off pressure points is the evidence-based practice, but maybe that position is very uncomfortable for them. We get creative and find other ways to get them off that pressure point and avoid any complications and prolong their stay. We use our knowledge and experience in our creative care for our patients.

Patient Education is an Art

Patient education is an opportunity to get creative and tailor it to the individual. I know my patient because of the relationship I have built with them. I know my anxious patient will require more time of me and reassurance. My scared patient might want to hold my hand. I know if they can read or if they need glasses to read. If my patient has macular degeneration, I won't hand them an educational brochure and leave the room. They don't know medical terms, so I tell them what those terms mean in verbiage they can understand. Perhaps this patient prefers seeing a picture of something rather than me just explaining it. I will draw it out for them. Speaking to a hearing impaired patient slowly and clearly and making sure their hearing aids are in their ears may help when I educate them. I base my education on what I know about my patient. I am a scientific artist, and education is my favorite part of the job because I get to be creative using my knowledge, and my patient is more informed. An informed patient is able to handle their situation better and make important decisions about their care.

We creatively use all this to customize our care for the individual person, making it a work of art that we create every day. This should motivate us when things get mundane. Remind yourself what you are doing is an art. Nursing is an awesome profession! What other profession can use science creatively to make the art of caregiving?

Heather Johnson, BSN, RN earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Loyola University Chicago. During her long tenure as a critical care nurse, she received a Daisy Award with several nominations. She now works as a health content writer and blogger.

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Specializes in Peds/outpatient FP,derm,allergy/private duty.

I've always thought nursing was a combination of art and science. As those are my two top career interests, it turned out well for me. Thanks for a great article!

Specializes in Freelance writer, critical care.

Wonderful! Keep up the good work!