The one question nurses should ask every patient

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I was sitting down to finally wade through my unread stack of the American Journal of Nursing when one article caught my attention. A nurse was talking about her memories of nursing in the 1970s. No, she wasn’t reminiscing about the disco scrubs she wore…she was recounting an important lesson she learned during that time.

This nurse discovered that we’re often wrong when we assume what our patients want. So she began each shift by asking the patient and/or their family, “What is one thing that will make today better for you?”  This simple question often resulted in simple answers. “Water.” “Juice.” “Another blanket.” The request may be something so simple for us, but it makes a world of difference for our patients.

She talked about a particular case in which she asked a dying patient this question and he requested rice pudding. Despite his NPO orders, she spoke with the MD and they agreed that it might be worth the chance to provide this patient with his pudding. He passed later that day, with his wife and an empty bowl of rice pudding at his bedside.

While this is sort of the extreme case and situation, and probably wouldn’t “fly” in most of our units, this question is one that I really like, and I am going to try to incorporate it into my daily care, if I can. I think we just go through our day thinking that the one thing that will make our patients’ days better is to “go home,” but I have a feeling that I’m going to be surprised at the answers I get if I start asking this on a daily basis.

Their request may not always be a task I can complete for them, but if I can do it, and make their day a little bit brighter, why not just ask?

Here is the link to the full AJN article referenced in this post.

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Ani Burr, RN

I'm a brand new, full-fledged, fresh-out-of-school RN! And better yet, I landed the job of my dreams working with children. I love what I do, and while everyday on the job is a new (and sometimes scary) experience, I'm taking it all in - absorbing everything I can about this amazing profession we all fell in love with.

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3 Responses to The one question nurses should ask every patient

  1. spinther Fan

    Thanks for adding the link to the article!

  2. Alloramadai

    I was once called “cheesy” because I tell my ER patients they are family once they walk through the ER doors, but think about it. Why should we treat our patients any differently than members of our family? We are seeing them in what may be the worst day of their lives. Of course their disposition may be sour, their demands may be endless, and their questions unreasonable. You better believe I expect the same consideration when I am a patient, and demand it for my family members. Can’t expect that which I won’t readily demonstrate and provide.

    I have precepted several new grads and been trailed by many students. Most seem surprised by this way of nursing. Isn’t that what we are to be practicing – the Art of Caring? Throw in a touch of the Golden Rule – compassion goes a very long way, even with the nastiest of demeanors. I know my new grads have gone on and shared my lesson with others.