The empathy exercise

It’s Thursday morning at the Parkview Education Center and a classroom full of new nurses are filling chairs arranged in a tight oval in the middle of the room. One clinician stands at the head of the assembled caregivers. She leans down and places a box of tissues in the middle of them.

“I'm going to place these here, just in case you need them. This is a safe space. My name is Brianna Graham. I was born at Randallia, came to work at Parkview at 18 and never left,” she began. “I have stories to share with you today, but I want to hear your stories, too. We’re going to talk about a dangerous trend in nursing and I want to address it because you are now a Parkview nurse. And the Parkview way is a different way. It’s evidence-based and it’s better. We bleed green.”

Brianna, BSN, RN, ONC, supervisor, clinical staff development, Parkview Health, is kicking off her empathy exercise with the latest group of newcomers to the health system. It’s a one-hour presentation she developed after noticing that nurses were susceptible to  emotional fatigue due to their experiences, the demanding workload and exhaustion of the tasks that nurses are responsible for. “I wanted to remind them why they answered this calling, and return them to their purpose,” Brianna said. The talk is part of 32 hours of onboarding that takes place over four days. 

It’s certainly a captive audience. “New nurses to the organization are perfect for this message,” Brianna explained earlier that morning, “because this sets them up for the culture and expectations of what it means to be a ‘Parkview nurse’ before they ever set foot in their own departments.”

The bottom line: “Empathy matters. For our patients, for our coworkers, for ourselves. We have to remember why we are here and our purpose. Parkview nurses are truly held to the highest standards of professionalism, patient care and excellence. I’m not just saying that because I am one. We truly don’t settle for mediocrity. We want to give our patients everything we have.”

And what does that everything look like? To the group of new coworkers, she poses the question: “If you cannot fix the patient, how do you make it better?” A few answers come quietly from the nurses, each of which Brianna agreed with. “You are part of a family and a club earned from years of blood, sweat and tears,” she continued. “I have five rules to share with you today and, I promise, if you remember them and apply them, you will have a fulfilling life and better career.”

For the next 55 minutes, Brianna stood up, boldly and vulnerably, and shared her personal stories of both her own chronic health struggles and those of others who have left an impression on her soul. At several points, people in the room were brought to tears, the pauses so profound and so silent you could hear the heartbeat of the person next to you.

While the majority of the details of and moving recounts from Brianna’s presentation are destined to stay private for the intimate groups of nurses who come through her onboarding curriculum, she does, as promised, cover a handful of principles:

1) Don’t just trust you patient’s words. Pay attention to more than just what they’re saying.

2) Don’t assume, because you’ll assume wrong.

3) Don’t judge. Get the story, the why. If someone is broken, they came to you to be fixed, not judged. As a nurse, you need to be who the patient needs you to be.

4) Find your help.

5) Cherish your team.

She closes by saying, “You came to the right place and you chose the right profession. The day you forget, call me. I’ll remember you.” 

When she finishes, no one is quite sure what to do next. A few get up to hug her and share their appreciation. Others stay in their seats for a few minutes, the weight of Brianna’s moving words running through their minds. It is an exchange with the promise of sticking to the ribs of those on the receiving end. It’s an emotional torch being passed on to the next generation of caregivers who will pass their empathy on to the patients and families who walk through the doors of a Parkview facility. It’s one woman’s Cliffs Notes for how to build trust and make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. It’s a gift. Her legacy.

It’s the Parkview difference.

 

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