Patience for patients
By Tracy Rusch, journalism, May 2008 graduate
Ten minutes is long if someone has been put on hold during an important phone call, or if grocery store lines stretch into the aisles. But when a doctor has only 10 minutes to discuss treatment options with a patient, time flies.
When UW Oshkosh graduate nursing student Lori Dehnke was in an Adult Health Nurse Practitioner program clinical, she experienced the short patient visit time that health care providers had. She wanted to see patients and teach but, after that semester, she decided NP Masters wasn’t for her and changed her major to nursing education, focusing only on the teaching aspect.
Years before, Dehnke had experienced the importance of spending time to discuss options with patients when her 80-year-old grandmother had a heart attack. Her grandmother’s doctor told her that bypass surgery was her only option. But Dehnke, an intensive care unit nurse at the time, discussed with her grandmother an option the doctor hadn’t. She could decide to take medical treatment rather than surgical.
“I sat down and I talked with her about how rigorous the surgery was,” Dehnke said. “In the end, she said ‘Well, I don’t want it…but that’s all he told me I could have.’”
Patient advocacy is support for patients in any situation, and the American Nurses Association places this in an important light for nurses. “I’m a firm believer in making patients aware of what all their options are,” Dehnke said. “Not that I want to tell them not to have treatment, but there is that option.”
Dehnke’s experiences created the focus of her research project titled “Analysis of Learning Patient Advocacy,” that won her a 2008 Celebration of Scholarship Graduate School Award.
During her exploratory study, Dehnke surveyed senior students who were graduating in May 2008. She asked them questions based on what they had learned about patient advocacy during their schooling. Dehnke said that the majority of the students had a basic definition of patient advocacy, which led to several themes: Standing up for patients’ rights and wishes, nursing as a voice for patients, and keeping the patients’ best interests.
She also said that the majority of students utilized lecture, discussion, clinical lab, the clinical setting, and even their work as certified nursing assistants and nurse externs to further their understanding of the patient advocacy role.
“Continued emphasis and development of this role is needed since a small number of students wrote they couldn’t remember learning about patient advocacy in these areas,” Dehnke said. “Advocacy is a role that must be learned through time and experience.” She also said that the College of Nursing provides a foundation for this learning that future employers must build on.
“I think, as a nurse, you can help your patients understand all of the options and spend the time to re-explain or…clarify for the first time what the patient wants,” Dehnke said. “And that takes the time that doctors don’t necessarily have.”
Dehnke wants to teach others that procedures don’t have to be done just because the technology exists; that no treatment with support is an option. “There is death with dignity,” Dehnke said. “Just because you choose not to have an extreme procedure doesn’t mean that you can’t have a high quality of life.”
After Dehnke’s August 2008 graduation, she started teaching undergraduates in the UW Oshkosh School of Nursing. She plans to use her research findings in her teaching, and will continue to research patient advocacy. “Research is a lot of work, but it’s well worth it,” Dehnke said. “It’s very rewarding.”
As a UW Oshkosh graduate student, Lori Dehnke was involved in Celebration of Scholarship 2008.