The Human Touch
There’s something else nurses do that doctors admire: relate to patients and their families on a deep emotional level. Over and over again, they facilitate healing through the intimate connections they build at the bedside. Samuel Weinstein, MD, a pediatric heart transplant surgeon and director of pediatric heart surgery at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, N.Y., depends on nurses to help families through frightening heart transplants and recovery. “If a patient has to be readmitted to the hospital, the families are always happiest to see the nurses,” says Weinstein. “They form strong bonds.” He remembers when a 7-year-old boy had a mechanical heart removed and was given a transplant. “The nurses volunteered to come in during the middle of the night,” says Weinstein. “There must have been 10 or 12 of them waiting for the results of the surgery, just as if he were their own family member.”
C. David Geier, Jr., MD, finds the nurses he works with to be exceptionally skillful, knowing everything backwards and forwards. In fact, Geier considers them to be “indispensable,” but not for the reasons you may expect. “We laugh a lot. The nurses make the operating room an enjoyable place to work,” says Geier, director of Medical University of South Carolina Sports Medicine and an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery. “The good outcomes we get have nothing to do with our facilities or equipment; they have to do with the fact that the nurses and doctors have fun, an atmosphere created by our nurses, working toward a common goal.”
If doctors value nurses so much, why don’t they show it? Some doctors are definitely making an effort, not just by expressing gratitude but also by making sure that nurses’ voices are heard. Gary S. Berger, MD, medical director of the Chapel Hill Tubal Reversal Center, is one. “I try to make it clear to the nurses in my office that they can come to me at any time with their thoughts,” says Berger, who honors the nurses at the center with flowers and lunch on occasion, and makes a point of making his appreciation known every time anyone does something above and beyond what’s expected of them.
Nurses have also been given a chance to contribute at the ICU service at the University of Washington Medical Center, a teaching hospital where Curtis works. It used to be that residents would give a presentation on each patient during rounds. No more. Now they give an overview and then the bedside nurses deliver stats on the patient as well as updates on the family. Only after the nurses weigh in do the residents offer an assessment and a plan. “The data we hear from nurses is the most up to date and accurate we have,” says Curtis. Why would they be left out of the discussion?
Any time Richard H. Savel, MD, medical co-director of the surgical intensive care unit at Montefiore Medical Center and an associate professor of clinical medicine and neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, has an idea for improving things in the ICU, he first consults with nurses. He values their expertise and inspires others to do the same. “I teach younger physicians that if you make a decision and a nurse doesn’t agree with it, it’s important to find out why,” says Savel.
Teachers and Teammates
Some doctors even admit that nurses have taught them not only how to do their job better, but how to be better people. “I had done well in medical school, and in the beginning of my residency, that success, unfortunately, went to my head,” says Hesham A. Hassaballa, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician in the Chicago area. “I had, what you would say, a â€˜high opinion’ of my abilities. I thought I was â€˜the bomb.’ In one month in the ICU, the nurses cured me and I’ve been a better doctor because of it.” Hassaballa will never forget how one nurse took him to task for not cleaning up after a procedure. Another nurse once said something nice to him and he failed to respond. “That was a compliment!” she admonished. “The nurses also showed me that they are part of the team rather than my servants,” says Hassaballa. “I am forever grateful to them.”
Hassaballa learned that the key to good doctor-nurse relations is mutual respect. When that exists, everybody benefits—especially, and most importantly, the patients. “We’re all on the side of the patients; it’s not us against them,” says Trifoglio. “Especially these days, when there is so much work to be done and hospitals are understaffed, the whole system needs support. Doctors and nurses, we’re all in the trenches together.”