By Glenna Murdock, RN, contributor
There was a time when rules of etiquette applied mainly to social situations, though many of the same rules eventually carried over into the business world. People learned the fine art of winning friends and influencing people in order to reach their professional goals. The fluidity of the work culture and the technology so common in today’s business realm, however, have necessitated bending and transforming many of the old rules and adding new standards of proper business etiquette.
The business of medicine, too, has grown and changed. The range of employment possibilities and career advancement opportunities for nurses are greater than ever before, yet the nursing profession has placed little emphasis on the importance of teaching and learning the skills of professional etiquette.
Kathleen Pagana, Ph.D., RN, recognized the need for nurses to fill the “etiquette gap” in their professional lives and set out to write a book that would guide them to become proficient at being mannerly and have fun doing it. The result is The Nurse’s Etiquette Advantage: How Professional Etiquette Can Advance Your Nursing Career, published by nursing honor society Sigma Theta Tau International, an entertaining and easy-to-read book that prepares nurses at all experience levels to deal with a variety of professional challenges.
“Professional etiquette is not optional for personal or professional success--it is a necessity,” said Pagana, professor emeritus at Lycoming College, Williamsport, Penn., and president of Pagana Keynotes and Presentations. “Career advancement depends on etiquette, but often nurses either aren’t aware they need it or they simply don’t know what to do.”
Pagana was teaching presentation skills for a national company when a colleague who taught business etiquette was preparing to take a maternity leave and she was asked to learn the program and teach it in her colleague’s absence.
“I attended my colleague’s presentation and the subject resonated with me,” Pagana stated. “Almost immediately I saw the value and need for etiquette in nursing. After further research I became convinced that professional etiquette was the missing link between education and success in the workplace and I thought of the various times during my career when I would have felt more comfortable and confident had I possessed better etiquette skills.”
The number one etiquette mistake, according to Pagana, is offering a limp or vice-grip handshake instead of one that is comfortably firm.
Wireless communication, so widely used these days, presents a new and unique set of etiquette challenges.
“The professional use of e-mail, phone and fax is essential,” Pagana explained. “For example, to protect the privacy of the recipients’ e-mail addresses, always ‘blind copy’ when copying an e-mail to several individuals. It is also important to have a serious and professional e-mail address. An employer won’t be impressed by an e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Pagana’s book covers a vast scope of professional situations that require competent etiquette skills, including interviewing for a new job or position, proper decorum at conferences and meetings, writing thank-you notes, dining with confidence in business settings and business travel.
Below is a list of etiquette tips that Pagana deems most important.
Top 10 Etiquette Tips for Nurses
1. Nurses are judged by the quality of their handshake. The handshake is part of creating a first impression.
2. Present your business card with the content face up and readable to the subject.
3. Never approach someone at a nursing conference and say, “Do you remember me?” Instead, put out your hand and state your name.
4. Place your name tag on the right side of your chest, so your name can easily be seen by a new acquaintance while you are shaking hands.
5. The way nurses dress in the clinical setting should support a professional, intelligent and competent image. Clothes are never neutral. They either add or detract from a professional impression.
6. Standing up during a phone interview will make your voice sound more confident and dynamic.
7. Your e-mail messages should include a signature block with your name, address, phone number, fax number and e-mail address. This provides several ways people can contact you.
8. When networking at a nursing conference, plan two or three sentences for the inevitable question, “What do you do?”
9. At formal table settings, if you can remember the expression “left-over bread” you will know that your bread plate is to the left of your entrée plate.
10. Beware of your gestures when traveling internationally. Some gestures can be misunderstood or considered insulting by people from other cultures.
Pagana likens the importance of learning etiquette to knowing the techniques of any sport.
“No one wants to play golf or tennis with someone who doesn’t know how to play. But, if you know the rules and have skills, people want you on their team.”
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