We’ve all heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” While there is truth in that statement, let’s not forget the importance of the last impression. It’s the last impression that can put the finishing touches on the encounter or leave the patient hanging – unsure about what is happening.
Whether it is on the phone or during a face-to-face encounter with patients, ending the encounter on a positive note helps define the overall impression.
When I think of a botched last impression, my mind goes to the awful day when I had to leave my newborn behind in the NICU. I had just given birth to my third child who had arrived almost a month early and had a collapsed lung requiring a chest tube and intensive care.
A Botched Last Impression
I had had amazing care through my entire labor, delivery and postpartum period. The nurses on the postpartum unit and NICU had been compassionate and sensitive to my fragile, worried state. I dreaded leaving without my baby. A new mother does not want to leave the hospital empty handed, and yet that was what was needed for her well-being.
As I packed up my things to leave, it took everything in my power to keep from breaking down. I worried about leaving my baby behind. A nurse I had never met came into my room and handed me the requisite discharge paperwork to sign. In the packet of papers she had inadvertently included a document authorizing discharge of my infant. This was a mistake of course, because my baby was in the NICU and would not be discharged for days. I didn’t sign that document, knowing it was given to me in error.
The Importance of Last Impressions
On the surface, it seems like a small thing. But handing me that document was insensitive. It gave me every indication that she knew nothing about me or my baby. How could I leave my baby behind if the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing? Obviously this nurse had a task to do and that was it. Her job was to get the signatures and get me out the door. Period.
After a few minutes, the nurse came back into the room to collect the papers. Seeing the unsigned infant release form, she turned to me and said in an irritated tone, “Why didn’t you sign this? If you don’t sign this, we can’t send your baby home with you.” I could not speak. My words stuck in my throat like a huge lump. I was trying desperately to hold it together. Fortunately, my mother was with me and spoke for me telling the nurse, “Her baby is in ICU.” The nurse snatched up the paper and said, “Oh, I didn’t know. I guess that’s it then. You’re set to go.” And we left.
Not much of a closure was it? I cried all the way home. That one encounter left me feeling discounted, insignificant and vulnerable. I worried about my baby’s safety. If they didn’t know me or my situation, did they know how to care for my baby?
After days of great, competent and compassionate care, I was leaving with a bad and lasting impression. What I needed, and didn’t get, was compassion and reassurance that my baby would be fine.
How Do You Make A Lasting Last Impression?
Whether it’s the end of a single, short encounter or the point of discharge, it’s important to create a lasting last impression. Being mindful during the final moments with a patient can make all the difference in the world. How will you create positive and lasting last impressions?