Working in healthcare takes an immense amount of technical skills especially when you work in direct patient care. After all, if you screw up an important technical task, you could hurt, or even kill someone. But it is important to keep in mind that the tasks almost always involves a human being at the other end.
I can vividly recall how stressful it was to perform my first injections, my first IV starts and first NG tube insertions as a student nurse. I’m sure that during those “firsts” I was totally focused on the task at hand. Out of fear that I would mess up and inadvertently hurt my patient. In the beginning, I’m sure I was more focused on the task than on the person on the receiving end. Over time, as I became more proficient and gained confidence, I could safely share my attention between the human interaction and the technical task at hand. That is what many strive for – the balance between technical competence and the ability to relate on a personal level.
The biggest challenge
One of the biggest challenges clinicians face is, that when stressed, they revert back to focusing on the task and not the interaction.
I have a hard time believing that task-focused people just don’t care. Clinicians get busy and overwhelmed and think in terms of lists to be completed. When this occurs, they are often unaware that they have shifted into task mode which may make them appear detached.
A few months ago, I was doing some shadow coaching with nurses. A nurse I shadowed was the most talented clinician I’d ever met in terms of her technical skills. She prided herself in this, yet was unaware of how she came across to patients and family members. The nurse seemed abrupt and uncaring to the patient and their family, because her attention was focused on the task and not the encounter.
With feedback and coaching, this nurse quickly grasped techniques for engaging with patients in order to build rapport and trust. She always cared. She just needed to show it. Now, here patients describe her as both highly skilled and caring.