Making the most of our empathy

New South Wales’ Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Susan Pearce says she had a “light bulb moment” while being a patient in ICU.

Susan Pearce, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer for New South Wales, knows just how important it is for nurses and midwives, with their most precious assets of empathy, communication and patient advocacy, to play a leading role in health care reform.

“I was in ICU following cardiac surgery and a nurse put all the blankets on me and simply put his hand on my arms and reassured me I would be okay,” she told delegates to the 2013 NSWNMA Professional Day.

“I actually felt, for the very first time, in what had been a pretty traumatic time in arriving in the ICU, that I would be.”

She said the experience led her to think in a very different way about what nurses and midwives do. She realised that often even nurses and midwives are unaware of the many ways they instinctively make a difference to the wellbeing of patients.

“Something we have always done very well is intuitively understand our patients and the other factors that contribute to their general health and wellbeing that aren’t always obvious. For all of us there’s something happening behind the scenes that others may not be aware of.”

She says she is not trying to over simplify the work of nurses and midwives in complex and challenging environments.

“The delivery of compassionate care is more than the execution of competent clinical skills. It involves a doing role and a caring role; when our patients consider they are cared for and cared about, they are not just being considered as a disease or a condition.

“I want you to think about how we always stay focused on translating this into our practice and what opportunities we can create for nurses and midwives on what they are doing and how it impacts on their patients.”

An example of this is the Essentials of Care program, a major feature of the work of the office of the NSW Chief Nurse. Susan has been asked: “why spend money on assisting people to get the basics of care?”

“The reality is we do need to invest in that. I’m not suggesting it’s a panacea but one of the things [the program] has done, where it’s worked well, is create a culture of shared responsibility and accountability, of creativity and ownership of solutions and opportunities and to always have our patients at the centre of what we do.”

Susan said Essentials of Care, operating in a large number of wards in NSW, has had sustainable impacts on improving patients’ experiences and staff satisfaction.

At Coffs Harbour Health campus there was an effort to really understand, from patients’ perspectives, what was leading to falls and that led to a significant reduction in the at-risk group.

At Wollongong Hospital the paediatrics ward and emergency department built a more collaborative approach.

“A paediatric nurse-in-charge now attends a clinical handover in the ED to enable early identification of issues impacting on the transfer of paediatric patients.

“All of this stuff sounds pretty simple and a lot is, but it takes time and critical reflection to get there and we’re committed to doing this to support staff.”