How Nurses Can Advocate Effectively for Safety
By Jennifer Larson, contributor
When you need people to hear what you have to say, what do you do? You speak up.
Speaking up is critically important when someone’s health or life could be at risk. But it hasn’t always been easy for nurses to speak up--and in some places, it still isn’t.
“Too often, nurses are afraid. They are worried about repercussions: ‘If I say something, I may lose my job,’ or, ‘If I say something, I may be seen as a scapegoat, I may be seen as a snitch,’” said Ruth Francis, senior policy advisor in nursing practice and work environment at the American Nurses Association (ANA). “Our culture shouldn’t work that way.”
The culture is changing as many organizations work to make safety a priority, but advocacy in nursing is still a necessity. The Leapfrog Group recently estimated that more than 206,000 avoidable deaths occur each year in U.S. hospitals. Nurses can be key players in improving that statistic and many others.
Advocating for patients
As a nurse, one of your primary roles is to advocate for your patients. Because you spend the most time with them, you are the most likely to notice when things are not quite right--so you can speak up and get the problems addressed. You’re also in the position to educate patients about their own care and safety. Try these strategies to help you be the best patient advocate you can be:
• Continue to learn. Safety protocols and standards continue to evolve. “You need to continually prepare yourself and really be a lifelong learner,” said Kathy Mertens, MN, MPH, RN, a director on the board of the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN). [Check out CEUs from RN.com.]
• Brush up on your communication skills with colleagues. Make effective communication about patients a priority. If your organization does not use a standardized communication protocol, inquire about introducing one. Or you can advocate for a team-building protocol such as TeamSTEPPS, suggested Mertens. “That is such a credible resource, and that’s a great way for nurses to bring evidence-based care to the point of care,” she said.
• Consider how you interact with patients. Continually seek ways to improve your communication with patients and their families. For example, don’t assume that all your patients have the health literacy level to grasp and use the information they receive in the hospital or doctor’s office. Using a tool or method like the Teach-Back method can help you confirm that your patients understand the information that you’ve given to them.
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Advocating for yourself and your colleagues
Your own safety and well-being are extremely important. Nurses cannot effectively care for patients if they are injured or afraid that a potential injury or violent incident may occur.
• Know how to care for yourself. Take best practices to heart; for instance, you may want to brush up on safe-patient handling, needlestick injury prevention and other information. And if you have access to lifting equipment or technology, use it! “There’s no point in having equipment if you’re not using it,” noted Francis. “And if you have the equipment, you have to know how to use it.”
• Turn to a professional association for guidance. “You hate to feel alone,” said Francis. “The worst feeling is that you are doing this all alone.” But you’re not alone, she emphasized. You can find resources and experts through the ANA, the Emergency Nurses Association, and other specialty organizations.
• Talk to a trusted mentor. If you feel that your own safety or health is endangered by some aspect of your workplace, talk to your manager or another person you trust in a position of authority. Or, seek out a mentor who can advise on ways to proceed. Travel nurses can contact their agency's facility liaison.
• Don’t give up. It can take time to build a safety culture or to influence others. You will likely need to gather evidence about a problem, collaborate with others and build support to achieve a solution.
RELATED: Top 10 Ways to Avoid Injuries and Illness at Your Nursing Job.
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