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From the Bedside: Patient Satisfaction and Nursing - Listening Matters, Whatever the Situation

Thursday, April 28, 2016
Amanda Anderson, MSN, MPA, RN, CCRN

Originally published for Off the Charts, the blog of the American Journal of Nursing


During this hospital stay, how often did nurses listen carefully to you?

  1. Never
  2. Sometimes
  3. Usually
  4. Always

Listening Carefully About Patients

“Her crit is dropping with each bowel movement, and she just won’t stop bleeding,” said my night shift colleague during the early moments of my shift.

As soon as she finished telling me the rest of my new patient’s care, I got on the phone for the ordered blood. Waiting for the first of many products to be delivered, I went to see her. As I poked around the hanging drips and fluids, checking dosages and orders, setting alarm limits, I heard my patient’s voice:

“Hello, hello? I’m so anxious. I just fell asleep for a moment and now I’ve woken up and I’m terrified. I think I need to be changed again, and I just don’t know what to do, and who are you?”

My colleague, busy with the details of resuscitation, hadn’t said much about my new patient’s anxiety. Anxiety, too often coded as neediness, is clinically important, especially in a patient with questionable stability, and doubly in a patient whose nurse must focus on speedy resuscitation more than handholding. I braced myself for what felt, just then, like an extra factor in an already challenging situation.

“Good morning,” I told her. “I’m Amanda, your nurse. I’ll be caring for you today, and my most important priority is getting blood into your body, because I’ve been told that you’re bleeding quite a bit. We want to stabilize your blood volume and stop your bleeding. We’ll do that with blood products in your IV.”

Listening Carefully To Patients

I start most of my shifts listening first, and then telling, setting a plan of care for the day together with my patients. But I didn’t like the slight bluish tint to this woman’s skin, or her heart’s steadily increasing beat. Her blood pressure was holding, but (applying Maslow’s hierarchy), I believed that she needed blood more urgently than she needed comfort (and antianxiety medication was out of the question—the resident would never agree to anything that might drop her pressure).

As I prepared to help my patient turn in the bed, she sent a million words in response: anxiety, questions, doubts of my actions and capabilities. With an eye constantly on the heart monitor, I gave the tersest of answers, my worries seemingly confirmed when I pulled back the covers and found a pool of bright blood.

Blood products came, and I pumped them into my patient’s flat veins. I was the only one in the room and I worked silently as she talked. And talked. If I had been a more experienced nurse, I would have welcomed her talking as a sign that her blood volume was sufficient enough to carry oxygen to her brain, and I would have engaged her more fully, both as a means of assessment and as a way to relieve her anxiety. But I was entirely wrapped up in the physical realm—stopping the bleeding and resuscitating the volume.

Listening Carefully With Urgency

After I’d been running, infusing, checking, and turning for a few hours, with little attention to my patient’s stream of talk, she started to cry.

“You do not like me!” she said. “I can tell. You think I’m so annoying!”  (Continue reading at Off the Charts)


From the Bedside: Nursing on the front lines of patient experience is a monthly column featuring best practices, research and news from experienced nurses around the country. The column examines patient experience from the front lines of care, through the eyes of the nurse.

Amanda Anderson, MSN, MPA, RN, CCRN   is an award-winning Critical Care nurse and emerging health care policy leader. Her extensive bedside experience, paired with her advanced administrative training, gives her an intimate understanding of the demands and challenges faced by professionals administering care at the front line. Amanda's narrative analysis stems from her writing training and scholarship, and her compelling authority inspires confidence. She credits writing as a catalyst for her ability to excel in patient-centered care. Read more of her work on her personal website, This Nurse Wonders (, or by following her on Twitter @ajandersonrn

Tags: communication, nursing
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