Nursing and patient experience: Six lessons learned after 42 years

Susan Shaw offers words of wisdom after 42 years of caring for children and families.

Recently retired as Vice President, Associate Chief of Nursing and Director of Clinical Operations at Boston Children’s Hospital, Susan Shaw discusses the power of patient experience and shares lessons learned from her 42-year career working with children and families.

Lesson #1: Remember why you’re here.

Everyone looks for meaning in their work. In a hospital setting, we have meaning everywhere, yet sometimes we don’t see it when it’s right in front of us. Even those of us in direct patient contact need to take a moment to think about the opportunity we have to influence someone’s life.

Advice: We all have bad days. On those days, whether you’re in an ICU or in Finance, take a stroll through the lobby and think about what those families are going through. Remember we are all here in service to our patients.

Lesson #2: Be an active listener.

The role I play in Patient Relations is my favorite part of the job because it’s the one place where I continue to have one-on-one experiences with families, even if they’re the families who are most angry with us.

I learned early on that I had two choices when I working with families: 1.) listen to all the things I heard during meetings, or 2.) listen wholly to our patients as a new experience. I chose the second option.

Advice: Remember to listen authentically to your families. When they share experiences, it is helping them navigate a challenging or tragic situation.

Lesson #3: Think about the whole experience.

We’ve all had magical experiences demonstrating care, compassion and empathy towards patients. But my unit or clinic is not the only place that matters to my patients and families. They are going to experience a lot of us — nurses, physicians, specialists, and more, and we are all important.

Advice: Regardless of your role as administrator, physician, caregiver or support staff; one common element connects us all — the patient. In order to achieve a highly reliable patient and family experience, we must take those magical moments and make them consistent and scalable.

Lesson #4: Learn how to partner with parents.

Partnering with parents is about making real connections with them. It’s not about throwing a bunch of options at them and abdicating our responsibility. It’s about truly sharing the decision-making with families, and that looks different every time.

Advice: Partnership is a learned skill and will get easier with time. Just know that some days may go smoothly and others will have rough patches.

Lesson #5: Don’t be too cautious.

I’ve come a long way in my own journey partnering with families. When I first began I had a tendency to be a bit paternalistic with families. But I’ve learned that sometimes, we’re much too cautious.

Advice: Trust the families we serve and never underestimate the power of one family connecting with another.

Lesson #6: Keep an open heart.

My hope for you is to never use the term “patient satisfaction” again. Talk about patient experience and patient engagement, and listen with an open heart and an open mind. These tools will help make things better for the families you serve.

Learn more about Nursing at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Susan Shaw retired after 42 years at Boston Children's Hospital.Susan Shaw, MSN, MS, RN, NEA-BC, recently retired from Boston Children’s as vice president and associate chief of Nursing and director of Clinical Operations.

During Patient Experience Week in April, Susan received the inaugural “Best in Care” award for her years of dedication to partnering with patients and families. Founded by Boston Children’s Family Partnerships Program, the award offers a way for families to recognize staff members and volunteers who go above and beyond providing excellent care experiences.