Tips to Improve Your Caregiving Skills

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By Megan M. Krischke, contributor 

February 22, 2013 - The opportunity to provide personal and attentive patient care is what draws many people to the nursing profession, yet the job itself can sometimes get in the way. Amid the myriad of tasks and responsibilities of each shift, nurses need to remember that caring for patients is always at the core. And caregiving is a skill that can be continually improved.

To help with that goal, NurseZone spoke to three nurse leaders who offer a number of suggestions for taking your caregiving skills to the next level.

Be people-oriented instead of task-oriented 

Tips to Improve Your Caregiving Skills
Kathleen Lattavo, MSN, RN, CNS-MS, CMSRN, RNBC, ACNSBC, president, Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, urges nurses to "be in the moment" when caring for patients.

“I think the biggest mistake nurses make in their caregiving is becoming ‘task-oriented’ and losing connection with the patient,” began Kathleen Lattavo, MSN, RN, CNS-MS, CMSRN, RNBC, ACNSBC, president, Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. “We run in to hang an IV piggyback and might ask the patient how they’re doing, but it can be obvious we just want to complete our task and get on our way. We are constantly thinking about everything else we need to do, when we should concentrate on the present encounter, give it our undivided attention and then move on from there.”

“Even if we can multitask, we can still only be in one place at a time. We need to make the most of that moment in time,” she emphasized.

Lattavo offers these practical suggestions for connecting with patients every time you enter a patient’s room:

1. As you enter, take a moment to focus on the patient and task at hand. Forget your other patients and tasks for this brief experience.

2. Always greet your patient by the name they prefer, and remind them who you are. Explain what you are going to do and about how long it will take. Thank them for choosing your facility for their care.

3. Always look the patient in the eyes during every encounter; it is amazing how eye contact conveys compassion, commitment and connection.

4. Sit down while you are teaching or gathering information from your patient. It requires no extra time and helps to improve communication.

“It is remarkable how more comfortable and relaxed patients are when you are at their eye level,” Lattavo remarked.

5. Make sure your patient doesn’t have any other needs before you leave.

6. Let them know when you will be able to return.

7. Debrief about the experience as you leave.

Focus on communication and connection 

Tips to Improve Your Caregiving Skills
Kelly Hancock, MSN, RN, NE-BC, reminds nurses that patients deserve their full attention, and that they need to change their approach in different situations.

“Patients need to know that we care about them,” stated Kelly Hancock, MSN, RN, NE-BC, executive chief nursing officer for Cleveland Clinic's Zielony Nursing Institute. “They have entrusted us with their lives and are so vulnerable. It is up to us to make sure that they have respect and dignity. You have to hear, empathize and respond.”

Hancock encourages nurses to be aware of their body language; approach the patient in a calm and friendly manner, place your feet evenly on the floor--not with one foot headed out the door--and lean in. Work to make some sort of connection, by smiling or gently touching the patient’s bed.

“At the Clinic we train on emotional intelligence,” she said. “Nurses have to change their approach depending on the situation. They need to know what will help communicate their message and how to read how it is being received. I’d encourage novice nurses to ask advice of their more seasoned colleagues about how to handle sensitive situations and for advice on how they could have done things differently in an interaction that didn’t go well.”

Hone your teaching skills 

Tips to Improve Your Caregiving Skills
Debbie Hensley, BSN, RN, CURN, says nurses should take into account a patient's ability to listen, process and retain information.

According to, Debbie Hensley, BSN, RN, CURN, president of the Society of Urologic Nurses and Associates, one of the key elements to being a good teacher is to know your patients.

“Before you begin teaching, you need to understand the patient’s culture and background and to assess their level of learning,” she encouraged. “You look at each patient as an individual and talk with them about their background. Through conversation, you should work to get a sense of their level of understanding. Ask, ‘What have you been told?’ ‘What do you understand about how this works?’ ‘So tell me what your thoughts are on this?’ ‘Do you think this is something you will be able to continue to do?’”

Hensley emphasizes that you can’t over-communicate when teaching a patient. She suggests having the patient repeat back what you told them and offering them information verbally, in a written format and also with images, if possible. She also suggests letting patients know they can call if they get home and have questions, and having nurses call the patient to follow up.

“Take time to explain issues with the patient regarding their overall health and how a health condition may impact them as a whole person. Help patients understand they are not alone and what resources are available. Give patients validated, patient-friendly websites to seek more information as they are learning about their condition.”

She also notes that it is important to evaluate the patient’s pain level--if they are in a lot of pain they will not be able to concentrate on information a nurse offers them.

“Everyone is unique and has different ways of learning. You can’t just have a spiel you use with every patient,” she added. “Nurses tend to be natural teachers. Look to your peers and mentors to see how other nurses are teaching.”

“Most of us became a nurse because we want to care for others,” concluded Lattavo. “We, as nurses, have control over our attitudes and approaches. We are an intelligent group of professionals who can keep caring in our daily work routines. Don’t you feel more fulfilled when you make this connection? Let’s work together to provide compassion, connection and commitment to each other and our patients.”

Related articles:
What Patients Really Want
Nurse Coaching: Bringing Gridiron Principles to Patient Care 


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