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What nurses taught me about compassionate care

Posted May 06 2013 4:27pm

by Kenneth H. Cohn

In anticipation of National Nurses Week, I dedicate my monthly guest post to them not only because my wife of 28 years is a nurse but also because nurses have taught me lessons about how to be a more caring physician.

I reinforce my previous salute to Nikki, an emergency room nurse in Massachusetts who took me aside and told me, "Just because that was your eighth patient with the same condition doesn't mean that it was her eighth sprain." Eventually, I got over my wounded pride and adopted the perspective that she viewed me as teachable.

I believe that my reverence for what nurses do for patients emanates from my father's teaching. As I have mentioned ," as a 16-year-old, I asked my father, a practicing neurosurgeon at a community teaching hospital, "Who do the residents learn from? From you or from nurses ... "

He said, "Mainly from me. Only those who are smart enough learn from the nurses."

I also had the privilege of working with nurses from Texas to showcase the progress that they made despite limited resources to leverage strategic collaboration to improve care for their community, increasing their pool of scarce operating room nurses, and obtaining magnet status for nearby hospitals to recruit and retain qualified personnel.

When I was associate professor at Dartmouth, nurses taught me that an important goal for a residency program in surgery is to teach communication skills. Several of them also taught me:

  • When one door closes, many others open
  • We are socialized to value relationships
  • We are hardwired to deal with change

The aforementioned skills of building relationships, active listening and embracing change are critical for surviving and thriving in this decade of healthcare transformation. I am indebted to my nursing colleagues for making a difference every day not only for what they have taught me as a physician but also for the way that they have helped me as a cancer survivor.

Ken is a practicing general surgeon/MBA and CEO of , who divides his time between providing general surgical coverage and working with organizations that want to engage physicians to improve clinical and financial performance.

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