Talk about death, be kind and trust your instincts: tips for new nurses

NHS nurses offer advice on when to question doctors and how to deal with patients you don’t like

‘Good nurses are really tuned into their gut instinct and new nurses should learn to trust it.’

Don’t be afraid to question senior doctors

Never be scared to question a doctor, however senior they may be. We are our patients’ advocates and can protect them from potential mistakes. A good doctor will respect you for this. If you feel something isn’t right but are not confident enough to challenge a situation yourself, go to someone you know, trust and respect – watch how they deal with it and learn.
Emma McLellan, staff nurse in the ICU, Manchester

Learn to trust your gut instinct

I believe good nurses are really tuned into their gut instinct and new nurses should learn to trust it. A nurse’s gut instinct is their deeply grounded knowledge base developed in practice, their critical awareness and what they have learned from previous situations plus an overall sense of knowing the patient well. You’ll just know something doesn’t add up, or you may convinced there’s something more going on, so make sure you go that extra mile to cover all bases. Maybe, for example, all of a patient’s baseline observations are normal, but you just sense that there is still that underlying thing you can’t put your finger on – monitor them really closely because you’ll often be right.
Zoë Hartwright, community mental health nurse, Shropshire

Death is a part of nursing – talk about it with patients

Death is a regular part of nursing. Patients need someone to talk frankly about death. We plan births for nine months, but talking about death always seems awkward and hard. One of the best things you can do for a patient who is nearing the end of their life is to give them opportunities to talk about their death and how they would like it to be. Being able to give advice and support to help them get their affairs in order can relieve a lot of their pain and worry. It is possible to have a good death but the conversations have to be had.

When death is unexpected this is very hard to deal with. I worked in an accident and emergency department for 10 years and learned that life and death is unpredictable. I have seen many patients and nurses struggle with the last words that they said to that person, so I try to adopt the approach of being kind. Really think about what you say during emergency situations – it is likely that patient can hear you right to the end – even if the rest of their body is not responding. Use their name, talk calmly to them, explain everything you do as you are doing it. Speak to them as if they are awake.
Christine Bushnell, advanced nurse practitioner, nurse partner in a GP surgery and trainer, Harrow

Be kind to patients’ relatives

It’s very hard not to take it personally when relatives are difficult with you. As a nurse in paediatrics, I found it tough at first as a newly qualified nurse without any children of my own. Now that I am older and I have my own children, it is different. When dealing with emotional or difficult relatives, try to put yourself in their position and understand that they do not have anything against you – they are just desperately worried about their child, for example, and you may be the nearest person to them and so they might take it out on you. It is important to listen without judging and, if treated with hostility, try to respond with kindness. Speak to your manager if certain behaviour from a family member is bothering you, but ultimately try to be understanding.

Don’t say, “I know how you feel” when you have never been in that situation. Instead you can say something like: “I can’t begin to imagine how worried you must be, but we are doing everything we can, if you have any questions please ask and if I can’t answer them I will find someone who can, etc”.
Sally al-Habshi, paediatric emergency nurse, Leicester

Be nice to healthcare assistants

Always be nice to healthcare assistants, they’re amazing. Make lists of jobs you need to do – a good list helps everything. And always remember that when you’re having a bad day, your shift will come to an end and you can go home and eat pizza.
Laura Thompson, ward manager, London

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