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See the Person, Not the Patient

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, June 17, 2014

A book written by two RNs details strategies for understanding and interacting with patients as individuals, and suggests nurse leaders can help by "giving nurses space" to do so.

It's early evening, and it's time to take Mrs. Smith's vitals. The nurse knocks on the door, just as a formality, and doesn't pause before entering the room. The patient is talking with her daughter, but the nurse goes about his business anyway, interrupting the conversation, quickly taking the vitals, and leaving. He's got a job to do, and other patients to see.

But Mary K. Walton, MSN, MBE, RN, director for Patient and Family Centered Care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a nurse ethicist, says a nurse's job isn't only about tending to a patient's physical needs, nor is it only about clinical responsibilities.

"It's not about the tasks," she says. "The tasks are important, the clinical skills are important, but it's [about] understanding the patient's needs."

Walton, along with Jane Barnsteiner, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Joanne Disch, PhD, RN, FAAN, is the co-author of a new book, Person- and Family-Centered Care, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. The book aims to help nurses move away from the idea of caring for a "patient" and instead toward caring for a person.

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