When You're the Patient

When you are the one in the bed things somehow look, sound, and even smell different. Healthcare is a constantly changing field. However, we can become quite comfortable as providers, sometimes forgetting what it actually feels like for our patients. Being on the other side is an unfortunate situation, but can provide an unparalleled perspective. Nurses Announcements Archive


A wonderful example of this was discussed in a recent article detailing one oncology nurse's blog post. It was written as an apology letter to her past patients. This after she, herself was diagnosed with cancer and realized her perspective may have been skewed. The article states, "In a blog post published on Nov. 14, titled 'Dear every cancer patient I ever took care of, I'm sorry. I didn't get it,' Norris, 33, who was diagnosed with stage III colorectal adenocarcinoma in September, apologized to every patient she's treated since she went into nursing." Norris continues on to say, "I didn't get what it felt like to actually hear the words...I didn't get how hard the waiting is...I didn't get how much you hung on to every word I said to you."

Having been on both sides frequently, I can tell you firsthand it is different. The setting somehow feels unfamiliar, despite having worked in various healthcare settings for over a decade. I find myself eyeing up my husband, making sure we look presentable (what's with that?!). I feel a general sense of unease, subconscious (or very present!) anxiety and an eagerness for every provider I encounter to view me as the "easy" patient. One who doesn't ask for too much. One who is not too opinionated and has unwavering compliance. One who has a positive attitude despite circumstances. One who maybe isn't really me at all that particular day.

When you are the patient a few things might seem a bit different...

You're Extremely Observant

When you're not the one completing tasks and running around in it, you realize just how much overstimulation there is in healthcare settings. I become incredibly hypervigilant and easily distracted. My brain is programmed to answer beeping IV pumps, buzzing beepers and ringing phones. Today, my role is different - but I still hear them and it drives me crazy. It's not easy to admit, but it may stem from feelings of being out of control. A stark contrast from working as a nurse in this very setting, where I am confidently calling many of the shots. You may find yourself reading into body language and facial expressions, heavily. I frequently feel overly sensitive to any slight whiff of annoyance from any healthcare provider. Did I say too much, go on for too long? Will my care be compromised... maybe they will come around less often if they think I'm annoying?

You Notice the Chatter

We're all guilty of it - after all, we're people too! Chatting quickly with a coworker about a recent TV episode, their family members, weekend plans, etc., seems harmless enough. But I can tell you, your patients are watching (and listening) way more than you may realize. This can be especially true when they are waiting for you to hang that IV bag in your hand. Talk of being overworked, lack of breaks and low staffing census can have major impacts on patients within earshot. It can increase their anxiety levels and leave them wondering if they are in safe hands.

Wait Times

We've all gone to welcome that patient to the unit - the one who is incredibly frustrated at the wait time. Patients can be upset when their appointment time is delayed over a multitude of reasons; childcare issues, time off work, inconveniencing caregivers, etc. What many of us don't consider is exactly what nurse Norris mentions in her blog post - how difficult the wait can be. This is especially true when patients are anxiously awaiting potentially bad news or worse... to be told their physician is out of ideas and doesn't know. Having to sit for any extended period of time can cause a major spike in stress levels, anxiety and mood swings.

This can also be true with patients waiting for responses via telephone, email or online healthcare portal. Having been on the nursing end of telephone triage, I understand that messages need to be prioritized. However, being the patient feels very different. You are less concerned with the volume of calls the office may have to return because you want your important question answered. What doesn't seem pressing to you as the provider may be a pressing issue to the patient. After all, it was important enough for them to reach out.

Every patient's experience is different. All should be valued and provided with compassionate & attentive care. Having a nurse with an open and empathetic state of mind can resonate deeply with many patients.

What's your experience with being on both sides? Do you feel some nurses get too comfortable in their settings - forgetting about how the patients might feel? Share your story below!


Oncology Nurse Diagnosed with Cancer Writes Apology Letter to Patients: 'I'm Sorry, I Didn't Get It'


3,726 Posts

Imagine a world of nurses and other healthcare providers who gained your perspective..

*clapping, loudly*

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

108 Articles; 9,985 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

My "a-HA" moment came when I was a patient in a psych unit. Almost every decision was made for me; I had little to no control over what happened to me.

Needless to say, this was frightening to me---I've always been the one in control, and I had trouble understanding that I was Viva the patient and not Viva the nurse. I kept trying to take care of my fellow "inmates" and staff had to remind me that I was there to be taken care of myself. It wasn't a bad experience, but it made me much more aware of what patients go through when they are in a medical setting where they have limited influence over their treatment.


62 Posts

I have multiple chronic health problems, and as a nurse, I do a fair amount of self treatment. The few times I have been admitted, I was literally afraid the staff would kill me. They offered me meds I had never before taken (with no explanation) started unnecessary treatments "because it's protocol," delayed collecting lab specimens until they they were too old to use, then hassling me to deliver more on command. At one point, 2 different doctors started me on 2 different HTN meds at the same time. No one questioned the orders and no one could even tell me if the doctors both knew what the other wrote. I guess it was ok I was afraid to sleep, since I was awakened not less than 4 times between 12am and 6 am. I avoid admissions to the nth degree, and after this episode, even my Doctor waves me goodbye as I leave his office, saying "stay out of t he hospital!" I dread to think what damage may have been done if I was not a nurse!

Specializes in Medsurg/ICU, Mental Health, Home Health.

I had never been an inpatient before I gave birth this fall. I had zero issues with my pregnancy but both my baby and I experienced complications surrounding delivery. I am much more understanding with my patients, and honestly, much less anxious and more easy going in general after that experience.

allnurses Guide

NurseCard, ADN

2 Articles; 2,847 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surge, Psych, LTC, Home Health.

I believe being on the "other side of the bed" does really help a nurse a

great deal. In fact, it's my hope that every nurse does experience it at

least once. It truly can be a huge eye opener and a real guidance for our

own practice.

Now, at the same time I do hope and pray that those experiences have

a happy ending. :)

I have been an inpatient exactly three times since becoming a nurse. None

of those stays were particularly complex or long. When I had my back

surgery, I even had the option to go home, but opted to spend one

night recuperating. One stay was for the birth of my son. One stay was

for chest pain which was nothing more than a panic attack.

One experience that truly changed and shaped me, was when my son

was hospitalized after experiencing new onset of seizures. The first onset

was so bad, my son's 02 sat dropped into the 60's, he was placed on a

vent, sent to UK children's hospital via helicopter, came off the vent after

a day, but remained in the hospital for close to a week, undergoing

tests. Surely a complicated situation full of questions, full of waiting,

full of fears. The nurses at UK were kind, professional, answered my

questions as best as possible... they came into the room only as

often as absolutely necessary.

I can look back onto that experience, as a guide in my own practice.


133 Posts

I agree! I got to see my first scheduled c-section in clinicals Friday, and was kind of shocked how the doctors were chatting about hospital business as they cut and cauterized. Two different people's notifications kept going off on their phones. The mother was treated as a non person, a slab of meat they were slicing. Not sure either of them said hi or congratulations. Maybe it is easier to distance if that is the case? There was annoying morning radio with commercials playing loudly in the background. Anyways, they all did a good job as far as I could see, but if I was going to be awake for a slightly terrifying surgical procedure I would rather not be listening to commercials, alarms and hospital chit chat.

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