by Douglas Walter
Pat Village, the director of surgical and oncology services at McKee Medical Center, has worked for two years to bring her nursing staff back to the “soul of nursing” by treating patients mind, body and spirit, while increasing patient satisfaction along the way.
It’s the outcome of Village’s “caring model,” and effort to create a relaxing, anxiety-free healing environment that has now essentially reinvented the way nurses on the unit work together, the way they care for patients and Village hopes, the way they view their job.
“The nurses who know that they are improving someone’s life, they are connecting with the soul of nursing,” Village said.
Last month, the implementation of the caring model gained Village national recognition when the American Organization of Nurse Executives selected her for the 2007 Organizational Innovation for Nurse Manager/Director Award.
“I’m humbled,” Village said. “I’m honored that people see the value of this work.”
The model is centered around training nurses to use holistic healing and relationship-focused techniques to create a unique healing environment for the patient, essentially treating the patient as a whole by relieving anxiety of the patient and their family.
Village’s first brush with this concept goes back to a personal experience, when her mother was ill and was receiving critical care.
“In critical care, the only time that I felt less anxious was with a nurse who was being caring and compassionate,” Village said.
Anxiety, as many studies have shown, is detrimental to the immune system and not productive symptom for patients when they are trying to heal.
Village recalls one LPN providing more compassion to her mother, even holding her mother in her arms at one point, than the RNs on duty.
“So guess who I wanted to take care of my mother? The LPN,” she said. “It was the beginning of really being aware of the importance of compassionate care.”
The experience inspired Village to begin thinking about a nursing staff that approached every patient like the LPN did with her mother.
Two years ago, Village then helped secure a grant to begin researching and implementing a healing model patterned after this idea, using approaches from University of Colorado’s Dr. Jean Watson’s well-know theories on human caring as pertaining to pain management and healing.
The staff began taking workshops on how to create the best healing environment possible, which included completely different approaches in planning for care, care itself and the interpersonal relationships between the nurses, with the patients and their patients’ families, she said.
“While we can manage pain with medication, at the heart of pain management is the relationship with the nurse and the patient,” Village said.
And the relationships are at the heart of the caring model.
“This is teaching the nurses how to be present with the patient and their families,” Village said.
Nurses have to learn to leave their biases about a patient at the door and approach care-giving situations objectively. One way to do this is to have the walking reports in the patients room, with the patients and their families present.
In some situations, nurses need to be honest with each other about whether they can honestly provide compassionate care to a patient. For example, a nurse could have a bias against a patient with liver failure caused by alcoholism. The nurse may not be able to show complete compassion, so that nurse may not be the one taking care of that patient, Village said.
Creating proper relationships on the nursing team also is very important, she said.
“Relationships within a team is one of the most significant factors in patient satisfaction,” Village said. “We do a lot of work with how we treat each other. One thing I will not tolerate is negativity.”
Not everyone fits into this approach. Village said her staff would rather pick up shifts to fill in vacancies instead of hiring the wrong person.
“Hiring a body is bad to do,” she said. “I won’t do it anymore. I have a phenomenal group of nurses and I won’t risk that.”
Other aspects of the caring model include opening a nurses’ sanctuary and giving patients a quiet time each afternoon.
“I think when I started this work that people from other units thought I was going off the edge,” Village said.
But the success of the caring model in the surgical/oncology unit has been shown through higher scores on surveys of patients regarding their care and in higher retention among employees.
The caring model also is now being implemented throughout the hospital.
“It’s been very fascinating work for me ... it’s probably the most fulfilling work that I’ve done,” Village said. “I think that this is what will transform health care.”