Recently, I received an invitation to submit jpegs of my paintings to a juried art exhibition. While looking over the gallery's past exhibits on their website, I wondered why they invited me.
The paintings I make don't reflect the style of work this particular gallery exhibits. The mismatch started me thinking about the concept of curation, and how it applies not only to art, but also to oncology nursing.
The definition of curate is: Verb [with obj.] select, organize, and look after the items in a collection or exhibition.
Oncology nurses curate insofar as we advocate for, and organize the care of, a collection of patients during our shifts. Usually, we do not control (jury in) who these patients are. Instead, they are admitted by an oncologist or nurse practitioner, and then randomly assigned to us by the charge nurse, or whoever makes the assignments on the unit.
The bedside oncology nurse takes this collection of patients and curates (organizes) the melee. Most days it works, but occasionally, a mismatch of personalities occurs.
I'm talking about those times when a patient doesn't like me. If I don't take immediate steps towards alleviating the situation, they become patients I don't like either, and I am never pleased with this outcome.
Not everyone with a cancer diagnosis is a nice person. Cancer is kind of blind in that regard. However, most cancer patients are so kind, and well, patient, that it always catches me off guard when someone is downright rude.
Here's a list of things I've observed about angry cancer patients:
- No one is a voluntary cancer patient. Anger is a normal response to a cancer diagnosis.
- No matter how personal their words, they are mad at the cancer, not you. Don't take it personally.
- Often, anger expresses helplessness. For example, many elderly patients are also caring for another family member with disabilities. Their anger often expresses anxiety for that family member's welfare.
- Transportation to and from oncology appointments contributes to the anxiety of patients living alone. It may be expressed as anger.
Here are a few suggestions for coping with an angry patient:
- Address the above needs. Often, simply arranging for the needs of the patient's disabled charge will diffuse the situation.
- Call in spiritual care and social services to counsel the patient, and help arrange transportation needs.
- Never start an IV or access a port on a patient when you are angry.
- Frame disagreements regarding this patient’s care on the foundation of their safety. If you keep this perspective and remain professional, it is easier for your manager to support and defend you from complaints.
- Do not placate angry patients by promising special treatment outside of patient safety or professional boundaries.
- If all else fails, request another assignment. Some clashes can't be settled rationally.
What suggestions do you have for managing personality conflicts with patients?