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Berry talks a lot about “deep listening” with her students. Be non-
judgmental about what your patients have to say, especially if their
condition is one that is caused or exacerbated by their own behavior—
smoking, obesity, drug and alcohol abuse.
Encourage communication by asking questions—What does that mean
to you? How do you feel about that? What can I do for you? Do you want
to talk to me more about that? I don’t have a lot of time to spend with you
now, but I’ll come back later.
Nurses today have the added challenge of interacting with an electronic
medical records system while interacting with patients. Young nurses may
be used to using technology in social contexts, but older patients may not
feel like their nurse is listening while looking at a screen and pushing
Help them feel heard, Berry says. You have to figure out how to do
what you need to do, but also look at the person and let them know, I’m here.
What helps one patient may not help another. Berry remembers one patient
who had Jerry Springer on her TV in her hospital room. Berry asked if she
wanted to change the channel to something else more relaxing or calming.
“No, I like this,” the woman said, “because these people’s problems are
so much worse than mine that it makes me laugh!”
Let patients be themselves and maintain control, Berry says. Honor
the spirituality of the patient, whatever it is for them. Immaculata has
a wonderful Catholic tradition, Berry says, as well as a respect for other
religions, other people’s spiritual journeys.
Patients can’t necessarily fit a description of their spirituality into the
two standard hospital intake questions—“Do you want to see the chaplain?
And is there anything we should know about your spirituality?” So one of
Berry’s students created a spirituality questionnaire to try to go deeper. As
long as the relationship is there, Berry says, nurses can ask, “What spiritual
practices do you have? Where do you get your support? Where’s your place
in the world?”
Another student was attentive to clues about her patients’ spirituality.
She saw a prayer book on the nightstand and asked her patient, “Would
you like to hold this? Would you like me to pray with you or for you?”
There are miracles out there, Berry says. One of her students told the story
of a pregnant woman who suffered severe trauma. She gave birth to the
baby safely, but the doctors didn’t expect her to survive. Her husband was
getting ready to take her off life support. Then she woke up and was fine.
“We don’t understand why these things happen,” Berry says. “But we
believe there are miracles. So does the Catholic Church.”
“Just as the nurse and the patient are changed as they come together, I’ve
changed as a teacher by coming together with my students,” Berry said.
“The pleasure of this class is that we have the opportunity to have this give
and take. I’ve learned so much from my students.”
Her adult students are juggling a lot—working full-time, taking college
classes, and often caring for young children. “These students make me feel
so humble. I’m so happy to know them.”
For Berry, “love is essential in holistic nursing practice. It is the
source of relationship-centered care. It is integral to compassionate, non-
judgmental nursing. It is possible to assess a patient’s condition and to
perform many skilled tasks without love, but with the essential element of
love, true healing takes place.”