You have an appointment in a law firm and the lawyer calls out, “Hi, Sweetie.” You went to a pharmacy to pick up your prescription and the pharmacist says, “Here you go, Sweetheart.” You have your house reconstructed and the contractor in charge always greets you, “Hi, Honey.” What would that make you feel? Probably a bit uncomfortable. Why? Because we view these individuals as professionals and expect them to follow the rules of etiquette for appropriate personal address. Yet, in professional nursing, this practice of using nebulous, endearing terms is extremely pervasive. In my experience as a healthcare executive for over 37 years, I have had countless patient complaints about nurses using such terms that made them feel uncomfortable and disrespected.
These endearing terms certainly have their place in our lives with our loved ones. They do not, however, belong in a professional relationship which is what we strive to create with our adult patients and the parents of our pediatric patients. It relates to the notion of respect which, in the simplest of definitions, means to hold in high regard or esteem. To create a trusting nursing relationship, all patients should be identified by their title Mr., Miss, Mrs., or Dr., plus their last name.
It is important to understand what happens psychologically to patients when they are admitted to a hospital. If you think about it, except for childbirth and elective surgeries, hospital admissions are oftentimes not by choice but by circumstances beyond a patient’s control. Patients feel vulnerable, out of control and fearful with many of them facing potentially fatal or disastrous outcomes. Their families and significant others share in those feelings with them. The nursing literature supports the notion that it is important to help the patient to maintain as much control over their environment as possible by allowing them choices for scheduling and other components of their treatment. Another way to allow them to maintain control is by keeping their identity and addressing them respectfully, not with general endearing terms. In my experience, patients have declared that the use of these terms makes them feel childlike and subservient, adding to their feelings of helplessness and fear.
Here are some important points to consider:
■Remember that nursing is a time honored profession and at all times we need to behave in a professional manner.
■As nurses it is important to empathize with the patient and attempt to understand how they may feel given their circumstances.
■Always address the patient with a title and their last name. If invited by the patient to address them differently, such as with their first name, it is appropriate to comply with their wishes.
■Always address all family members and significant others with their titles and last name unless invited to do otherwise.
The practice of nursing is holistic in its approach to deal with the physiological, psychiatric and spiritual components of the whole being. We, as nurses, have great power and everything we say and do can affect a patient either positively or negatively. Treating patients with respect can go a long way to build successful, healing relationships in professional nursing