By Liza Maricle, BSN, RN
VMS BioMarketing Clinical Nurse Educator
Being a leader is certainly not meant for every personality type, but those who lead may choose the responsibility for different reasons. Some leaders take this role as a means of staying in control of situations, while others prefer to involve other members of the team in decision-making processes. In the partnership between a Nurse Educator and patient, the second — more collaborative — type of leader is best suited for the position. Team participation fosters an environment of togetherness and creates a target for obtaining the same goals. When each member is involved in the decision-making process, the team is stronger together and more likely to achieve the desired outcome.
The specified goal for a nurse and patient team is one that benefits the patient's health and leads to a lifestyle of wellness. Better outcomes are achieved when the educator takes a leadership role that fosters mutual understanding and creates a relationship made of give and take — not just one or the other. To be an impactful leader for a patient, an educator must have many different attributes that are aids for success.
The first characteristic of an outstanding nurse leader is the ability to develop and foster an environment of trust between the patient and educator. A major factor in creating this environment is humility; a nurse who shares that he or she has made poor choices in the past and is, in fact, human is someone with whom the patient can relate. Using the example of diet and exercise, the nurse could share a story about the time she decided to skip the gym or opted for the burger instead of the salad. Such a "confession" shows that every person, even Nurse Educators, give in to temptation, but they can start fresh the next day because every day is a blank slate. Moreover, this shows the patient that while mistakes happen to all people, it is important to keep striving towards set goals and never give up.
The next attribute of a successful nurse leader is the ability to place emphasis on supporting the patient. When a patient is involved in setting lifestyle goals, a sense of ownership evolves in the process. Furthermore, the nurse will be there for support through the hard times of the journey as well as celebrate achievements. Educators should work with patients to set realistic goals tailored to the patient's abilities — and change the goals when necessary. For example, if a patient wants to run a marathon but has never run long distances before, the nurse works with the patient to set goals that are obtainable. Setting lofty goals is essentially setting the patient up for failure. By creating smaller, realistic goals, like running one mile, three times a week for a month, the patient is more likely to realize her/his goals.
Finally, a nurse educator who doubles as a leader must be flexible. Each patient is different, and the nurse should tailor the training to meet individual needs, even if the needs change. Flexibility makes the patient more comfortable with sharing uncertainties that may arise along the journey. A patient may choose to share that he or she strayed off course, but the nurse is there to reassure the patient we are all human and that together, the two will readjust the goals to fit the current needs.
A Nurse Educator is many things: a motivator, a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader, a friend, a supporter, and a leader. Patients look for someone who can fill all these roles as an expert in their health care. Nurses come to the table with experience and knowledge that can help transform a patient from living an unhealthy lifestyle to wellness by displaying humility, allowing the patient to take ownership of his or her condition, and flexibility. With the help of a nurse to lead the way, patients can have new-found hope and see they are not alone in their fight to live a healthier life.