How nurses can become better patient educators

When it comes to patient education, nurses have a critical role. They tend to spend a little more time with patients, teaching them about their illnesses, treatments and health.


As many of you know, advanced practice nurses become patient educators once they get their degrees. This responsibility might not be written in their job description, but it is certainly a part of their persona.



But why are nurses responsible for patient education?


Anyone who comes into a clinic with an illness is going to have doubts, fears, and uncertainty on their minds. Even if it’s just a mild case of something preventable. Many patients will try to educate themselves as well, so nurses also have to combat misinformation through their practice.


A 2017 study from Merck found that nurse practitioners spend about half the time educating their patients on the diagnoses they receive, their treatment options, and their medication. The study also mentions that nurses see low healthcare literacy as a challenge in their profession.


This is why RNs and NPs have to become better educators, and also why they are already the best shot patients have to be informed. They come to nurses because they trust them. When they share their problems, they feel like someone’s listening.


Patient education has become especially important at a time when nurses are facing many other professional challenges and hurdles. In a world where nurses are overworked and underpaid, good patient education can save a lot of time and resources.


Read more: Nurses are suffering “insufficient resource trauma” in the workplace


How can NPs (and other types of nurses) become better educators?


Both NPs and RNs have the task to keep their patients informed so they can make better decisions about their healthcare. But how can you inform them in the right way? How can you answer their questions so they understand everything better?


For starters, nurses should be aware that patient education starts the minute they walk into the clinic. Every nurse should make it a priority to answer their questions whenever they arise. If they are left to their own devices, they’ll either keep coming or they will try to find information elsewhere.


Let’s answer a few common questions nurses might have about the educational side of their practice.



Is it bad to let patients do their own research?


The same 2017 study by Merck also found that 80% of patients conduct prior research on their symptoms before heading to the hospital. However, nurses should also conduct their own research to have a conversation that results in mutual understanding.


The internet is full of terrible medical advice, that’s true, but it is also filled with great resources for patients to inform themselves. The role of a nurse is not to chastise them, but to find out what they know and help guide them through what works (and what doesn’t).


Read more: Hospice care 101: Know the basics to help your loved ones


How can nurses guide these patients?


The first thing every nurse needs to do is find out what the best educational materials are for every patient. Some will be more comfortable with audiovisual media, while others will prefer to read, for example. You need to ask yourself some key assessment questions.


It doesn’t really matter if patients have educated themselves beforehand. What matters is the follow-up: how nurses ask them questions about what they found, and steer them in the right direction.


Find out what your patients prefer and then make a note to share effective educational resources with them. Researching on your own will allow you to find some tools they can use to build healthy habits and understand why they need to do certain things.


You also have to understand that every patient is different. Some of them will not be able to learn some of the things you teach them. Some of them won’t even want to. Your job is to do your best with each one of them. Don’t get frustrated if they can’t follow you every time.


What are some tips to help patients learn new information?


It’s important to practice explaining everything as simply as you can. Some nurses might believe that, since they have and understand the information, they already know how to educate their patients.


We could argue that many nurses don’t know how to explain illnesses, treatments, and medication usage in a simple manner to their patients. Does this mean they are bad teachers? Not necessarily. It just means that they haven’t practiced these explanations by themselves.


Here’s an useful exercise: start with the main problems that you see everyday. The ones that you’ll need to explain to patients most frequently. You should practice explaining these topics to somebody that doesn’t know anything about medicine.


Follow up on that by taking advantage of the technology available to you. For example, there might be one or two YouTubers out there who are explaining the same issue to hundreds, if not thousands of viewers. 


Their job is bringing the knowledge you already have to the people, so why not check one or two videos before going back to work? Patients will only learn new information if they can understand it. And even if they can’t, you can still point them in the right direction.


Read more: 15 Great Blogs, Podcasts and Youtube Channels for Nurse Practitioners in 2020



What are some things to avoid when educating patients?


To educate patients properly, you have to stay away from fear tactics. You aren’t doing them any favors by scaring them into taking their medication, or keeping up with their treatment.


The best thing you can do for your patients is presenting everything in a realistic manner, that’s for sure. You don’t have to be a downer, however, as you don’t want them to be stressed out about their prospects.


It all comes down to rapport, which you can build by being transparent but also well-prepared. If you answer any fear-based question they might have with confidence and simple terms, they will go home feeling better (in most cases).


What are some other things I can do to become a better patient educator?


Nowadays, nurses have a lot of tools that they can use to become better educators for their patients. Maybe you’re thinking about creating some of these tools yourself, so why not give it a shot?


Maybe you could create an online course, or start making YouTube videos. You’d be surprised at how many nurses are currently doing that. They are able to create and promote their own brands, taking the educational part of their jobs to the next level.


If you enjoy educating your patients, perhaps you’d enjoy educating nurses as well. There is a professional role for such a thing, that of the Nurse Educator. You would get to prepare new nurses from their transition from academy into practice, which can be very rewarding.


What you really need to do is take advantage of social media (if you want to become a better educator overall). You can start your own blog or social media page to craft your own educational resources and direct patients to them (or even other nurses!).


Last, but not least, there are lots of online courses that you can watch to learn some teaching and communication skills. At NPHub, we have our own academy for nurses, and we will upload many courses related to these topics in the near future.


There has to be a part of you that enjoys giving out information, just as you enjoy caring for your patients. It’s all part of this great profession, and it all leads to the same outcome: more healthy people in the world.


Read more: Should You Get an MBA as a Nurse Practitioner?




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