Imagine you’re a patient in a hospital bed and have no previous medical knowledge. A nurse comes in and checks some machines in the room, makes some adjustments, frowns, and walks out. You’re left wondering: What does that mean? It’s likely you would feel anxious and scared.
This is one reason why nurses need excellent communication skills. Now imagine you are a nursing student on your first day of clinical rotations. Believe it or not, you’re being evaluated on patient satisfaction from the moment you walk in the door. If you don’t have the ability to make patients feel comfortable, it will influence an employer’s decision whether or not to hire you when you enter the job market.
Strong communication skills are imperative for new nurses and can even save lives. In fact, a recent study revealed that medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Many of those fatal errors are the result of poor communication.
This is why, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), general education is essential to producing well-prepared nurses. Studying science, art and communications will help nurses perform their jobs with knowledge, empathy and accuracy.
Explaining the Human Body
The AACN recommends that nursing education includes concepts from behavioral, biological, and natural sciences. Chemistry, microbiology, and anatomy and physiology are all invaluable to the nursing curriculum.
Of course, science coursework may seem like common sense for nursing education, but the importance of a strong foundation in this subject matter cannot be emphasized enough. When students and ultimately nurses understand the general science of the human body, they not only know what course of action to take but also how to effectively articulate why a specific treatment is required and how it works. This is imperative when interacting with patients, visitors and other staff members.
A general foundation in science also provides nursing students with the ability to give clinical reasoning for their actions. Students are always expected to provide a rationale. General education science courses help develop this skill.
The Art of Empathy
Arts and culture education is also essential for nurses, according to AACN. Nursing students should take literature, the art of healthcare and cultural diversity courses. In these courses, students develop empathy and the ability to consider multiple perspectives, which improves the quality of patient care.
With an emphasis on patient satisfaction at an all-time high, cultural competence is key. Nursing students need to be able to assess individual patient needs and create an environment that allows patients to feel safe and comfortable.
General education courses in the humanities challenge students to consider diverse worldviews, which they’ll encounter every day at work.
To accurately express clinical reasoning or exhibit cultural competency, nurses must communicate well. According to AACN, “communication in a variety of modes, including the written and spoken word, prepares baccalaureate graduates to involve others in the common good.” This is why nursing students can benefit from courses in composition and speech.
Communication skills improve the relationship between patient and nurse and between nurses and other professionals, especially doctors. Effective nurses educate patients and explain treatment in language the patient can understand while also communicating with doctors about crucial patient information. Furthermore, nurses must know how to communicate objectively in writing, especially now that medical records are almost exclusively electronic and need to make sense to anyone who reads them. Since patients can access these documents, clear, objective language is critical.
These skills will build relationships and save lives when taken to the bedside in nursing practice. The focus on science, arts, and communication in general education coursework can help nurses do their jobs more confidently and effectively.
Tina Shanahan is Associate Professor of English at Herzing University and a doctoral student in the Language and Literacy program at Cardinal Stritch University. She feels grateful every day for the opportunity to work hard at a job she loves, fuel her passion for literacy through her doctoral studies, and raise two young boys.
Cordia Starling has been the Department Chair of Nursing at Herzing University-Atlanta. She graduated from the University of Alabama with a Doctorate in Higher Education Administration, Georgia State University with a Master of Science and a major in Nursing and clinical nursing specialty in Maternal/Child Health, and the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She has been a nurse for 37 years and in nursing education for more than 33 years, beginning as an instructor and ending as a professor and dean of nursing at other allied health programs before coming to the Atlanta Campus.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.