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Patient Communication – Reading Between the Lines

Sometimes being a nurse feels a lot like being a parent. You have to make sure your charges are taking their medication, staying out of trouble and you have to read their body language to get the full story. Part of being in a vocational nursing program is learning how to treat patients, but also how to listen to what they are NOT saying.

I found an interesting article on Scrubsmag.com that describes six things your patient won’t tell you. The first on the list pertains to pain. Some people moan and groan just to get a dose of meds while another will down play any discomfort. I think the hardest part is getting the experience and intuition to find out who really needs the attention and who needs a room in the farthest corner of the ward (okay, I’m just kidding about placing a problematic patient far away, but don’t tell me that you haven’t thought about it, too!)

The next circumstance where the truth isn’t always easy to determine is the story behind how the patient really got hurt. Watch a half hour of America’s Funniest Home Videos or YouTube and you can see how stupid people really can be. (I’d be too embarrassed to tell the truth if I was some of those people, that’s for sure!)

Following the directions on a medication bottle is another area where patients can give misleading information. Many of the elderly forget to take their prescriptions or others just aren’t consistent with it.

Giving a full medical history can also be a grey area for patients. Does every sprained ankle, ER visit or family condition need to be explained? Yes! Some of these instances can be personal, others insignificant, but the complete picture is needed for the best treatment.

Finally, we all want to keep our bad habits out of public view. Our junk food habits, lack of exercise or Friday night vices aren’t things we want to share with strangers, even if they are wearing scrubs. (Okay, I admit I am guilty of this one. My doctor always asks if I am exercising to help my fibromyalgia, so for a while I would show up for my appointments wearing tennis shoes and sweats so he would think I came from or was on my to the gym. Oh, the shame!!!)

Graduating from a vocational nursing college means that you’ve mastered a lot of important skills. Reading patients and gaining their trust is a skill that also needs to be honed!

To read the complete article mentioned in this post, please visit