Nursing Secret Shopper: healthcare from the other side of the bed

UVA Medical CenterWhile attending a nurse recruiting seminar after graduation, I heard a wonderful quote from a very seasoned nurse.  She said, “Patients go to the hospital for nursing care.” Of course, we all know patients go to the hospital because they are sick! Her point, though, was that it is the bedside nurse who provides the acute care needed to help the patient recover from their illness.

Not to diminish the importance of the great work done by doctors and other health care professionals, but nurses care for patients 24/7. That quote helped me stay focused as a pediatric nurse in the hospital and then it became my go-to quote when I taught nursing school.

Last year, I had an opportunity to experience this first hand. As my husband and I were driving home from an event, I felt a headache coming on. Between the car and the living room it went from a simple headache to the worst headache I have ever had. Over the next few days it ebbed a bit, but never went away and I was overwhelmed with fatigue. We finally went to the Urgent Care and a CT scan was ordered. They could not do it that night at the Urgent Care so I opted to return home and come back in the morning, rather than go to the hospital across town and wait 6-8 hours for a scan. Upon my return, the CT scan was quickly performed and I waited afterwards in the waiting room with my husband, who is a urologist (Henry Parfitt, College ’70). After the scan, the radiologist wanted to speak to him. Red flag! It may have been a courtesy, but I knew enough to know it was not to tell him that the CT was normal and I could go home. Hank came back and said that I had a subdural hematoma.

Things happened very quickly from there. I was taken by ambulance from the Urgent Care to the ER at the main hospital across town. Nurses began doing their assessments and the doctors came in to see me. Since I was on medication because of a mild heart attack several years ago, it was decided that we had to wait for several days to do the surgery to remove the hematoma. By the fifth day after admission, it was deemed safe to operate. I was taken to the OR on a Saturday morning for surgery. My surgeon did a terrific job and I recovered uneventfully.

I ended up staying in the hospital for almost 3 weeks in a variety of units – ER, Intensive Care, Neurosurgical, step-down, surgical, and finally rehab. I felt like I was the “secret shopper,” assigned by the hospital to experience as many units as possible and evaluate the care provided by the staff.

The staff passed with flying colors.

Here is what I learned going from nurse to patient that I want to convey to other nurses in the field:

  1. The importance of the team: From the moment I arrived in the ER, I was so well taken care of by the nurses and doctors. I must add that all the hospital staff from dietary to housekeeping and transportation truly understood the concept of patient-centered care. Everyone was attentive to my needs at all times.
  1. Technology is important, but not everything: I do believe the new technology makes in-patient care more accurate, safer and streamlined. Although the high level of care possible with all the new technology was amazing, my team never lost the human touch in taking care of me.
  2. Communication is key:  I noticed a division of labor between the staff that was more definitive than when I was practicing. The entire health care team exemplified the concept of patient-centered care. If I told someone that I needed something and it wasn’t within their purview to do it, they immediately communicated to the correct staff person to make sure it got done.
  3. Be a good patient, the rules are there to keep you safe! I’ll end with one of my favorite stories about my hospitalization. Post-op, I was not allowed to walk by myself. If I had to get up at night to go to the bathroom, I had to call someone. The staff was always very responsive and never made me feel like I was bothering them. One night, I woke up and decided to go to the restroom by myself. I’m actually a very compliant patient and I’m not one to rock the boat. However, I had been working very hard in physical therapy, and knew I was getting a lot better. During an early vital signs check the next morning, my sweet nurse Sharon said, “Oh, you didn’t need to go last night?” Well, I confessed and the stern look she gave me was worthy of a good nurse! She reminded me it was not safe and that they are very strict about patient safety and concerned that I don’t hurt myself. Needless to say, I was quite chastened as I should have been. If  I was reprimanded by Sharon, the kindest nurse I had met, I really had messed up!

My nurses’ concern, care, professionalism, and collaboration with the rest of the health care team made me very proud to be one of them, albeit retired. I remember all the lessons I taught my students and realize that even with changing technology, the wonderful inborn qualities and expert training of nurses has continued down through the years. For me, this experience as a patient has reinforced what I have always believed about the importance of nursing care to patient recovery.

Diane Parfitt
received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) from UVA in 1968 and her Master of Science in Nursing from UNC in 1973.  Diane went from pediatric nurse and nurse educator to an appointment to the North Carolina House of Representatives, championing legislation to protect victims of child abuse. Diane is the owner of City Center Gallery & Books in Fayettville, NC.

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