Nursing in times of uncertainty
Thursday, July 06, 2017
When political, cultural and societal landscapes are in upheaval, nurses often play the role of intermediary and counselor to patients feeling the stress of that upheaval. In these tumultuous times, how can nurses remain a steady and calming presence for patients seeking solace and reassurance amidst the storm?
Begin with reassurance
Patients with a tendency toward anxiety or depression can experience deep stress when the forces at play in the world are in a state of flux. Since nurses are indeed the most trusted professionals in poll after poll, certain patients may turn to their nurse in such moments.
This article does not intend to provide a plan of care for patients with anxiety and mental health disturbance. However, we can safely say that the first job of the nurse can come in the form of providing reassurance and comfort when patients are distressed. The nurse can reflect and normalize the patient's feelings, assess their symptoms and act as a calming presence.
It's difficult — if not impossible — to reassure a patient with chronic illness and multiple medications and providers that changes to national healthcare legislation won't have a negative impact on their ability to stay healthy and receive the care they need. These are times of immense uncertainty, and the country waits with bated breath to ascertain how this legislative puzzle will fall together or apart.
The nurse's main task is providing the patient with a supportive, nonjudgmental place for the airing of grievances and the sharing of anxieties. Both the nurse and the patient know that the nurse cannot single-handedly fix the situation, but the nurse-patient relationship can provide compassionate respite and unconditional support.
Brokers of information and resources
"Knowledge deficit" is a standard nursing diagnosis utilized for decades. In the case of patients' worries about a topsy-turvy world, a lack of reliable information can certainly increase anxiety in the face of multiple unknowns.
When patients experience such uncertainty, one of their greatest desires is reliable information. If the nurse has provided appropriate emotional support in order to ease tensions, the provision of information comes next.
Nurses are critical thinkers who know how to look for what we need. Stress can cloud patients' thinking and problem-solving capabilities, thus nurses can serve as conduits of information and resources for patients in need.
When it comes to issues of health insurance, the uncertainties of healthcare reform, political turmoil or access to care, the nurse can use his or her critical thinking and problem-solving skills to search for information or resources that can point the troubled patient in the right direction.
Nurses can divulge to patients when they do not have the answer to a vexing question, while simultaneously offering to do their utmost to assist the patient in connecting with those who may hold the answer. The nurse can act as a broker of resources and information, providing the patient with the means to take action, seek further assistance and get important questions answered.
The certainty of uncertainty
Whether it's the uncertainty of war, gang violence, the opioid epidemic or healthcare reform, patients in the 21st century face massive obstacles and sources of concern.
There is a veritable certainty of uncertainty that seems to often serve as the basis of life in these times. Nurses have the responsibility and privilege to support patients when times are tough and the road ahead unclear, even when we can only apply a metaphoric Band-Aid in the form of words of comfort.
Nurses remain a highly trusted group of professionals to whom the public turns when they need us most. Nursing in times of uncertainty isn't easy, but we soldier on by providing as much information, resources and solace as we can.
We may not always be able to solve the problem, but we can serve as guideposts and lighthouses in the rough seas of 21st-century life.
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