An Interview with Kathryn Maguire
One of the biggest challenges in my 30+ year career has been transitioning from a pure nursing role to one that combines nursing with management skills. And if I can provide one piece of advice to those who are currently in the nursing field, and excelling, it’s to learn how to communicate effectively. Learn how to find your own voice.
Let me share a bit of my story. More than 30 years ago I became a licensed practical nurse, and I immediately started working in a hospital. Like many nurses today, I was responsible for 14 patients, all in private rooms. I took care of their medical needs as well as medications , bathing and dressing and sometimes feeding them all while documenting every portion of the care and assessment of the patient in the medical record. This at the time was all done on paper.
Over the years my roles evolved from working in hospital care to continuing care, which today is called a case manager role. Eventually, I ended up as a discharge planning coordinator, helping patients and their families with long-term care issues. It was then that communication became an essential skill not just for me, but also for all those with whom I was working with —my patients, their families, my managers and the team of nurses both internally and externally that I was working with. Essentially, I had to listen to what my patients /families needed and were requesting, and to communicate that up and out to accomplish the needs of the patient as well as the organization that I worked for because there were expected outcomes and timelines. I found success through a few particular strategies.
Strategies for Communicating in Eldercare
• Listen. Listening is a skill few people really have. In fact, many people, when they are “listening” are actually just thinking about what they are going to say next. When working in eldercare, truly listening is an essential skill. Often the circumstances include heightened emotions from the patients and their families, combined with increasing cost containment and operational pressures on eldercare providers. You need to listen to not just what they say, but also to what they don’t say.
• Watch. A large portion of our communications is non-verbal. Learn to watch the facial expressions and body language of those with whom you are communicating. Does what you are seeing fit with what you are hearing?
• Understand. As they say, timing is everything. Learn to understand how and when to approach patients, their families and your management. Think in both broad terms, and specifics. For example, if there is a big internal review going on, it might not be the best time to bring up operational issues that are not vital. Taking the smaller view, understand the nuances of your specific managers. Some will take better to being approached in the morning, others react better when you give them time for a cup or two of coffee.
• Prioritize yourself. Before you start communicating, understand what you really want to say first. Sometimes this means you need to take a step back and assess the situation before simply reacting. Reflect instead of react.
Mastering these “simple,” but very nuanced eldercare communications skills will help you to gain confidence in your communications skills. Learning them will help you to find your own voice. Know that your voice is an extremely important one in the eldercare system with which you work.
Kathryn Maguire is the director of clinical programs at New England Quality Care Alliance. Kathryn has been in executive management and led teams in several post acute health care environments, including new models of health plans, insurance, acute hospitalizations, short/long term care and VNA/home health care. Kathryn teaches the Effective Feedback and Coaching for Performance course and the Managing People in Times of Conflict in Eldercare Organizations course.