A Richmond Hospital ERN, Nem Grewal, shares her thoughts about how we can increase the human connection in healthcare.

Thank you for making my Monday morning special

It goes without saying that the desire to improve people’s lives through better health is the reason we choose to work in healthcare. And the care we provide to patients and clients across VCH Richmond is truly of a high quality. But what if we could do more? And what if that “more” took no more than a few minutes of our time?

I found a moving response to these questions last week, when I opened my email and saw a note from Nem Grewal, an Experienced Resource Nurse (ERN) at Richmond Hospital. Nem was inspired to write to me after receiving her Year in Review newsletter. What she shared with me truly resonated, and for this reason – and with her permission — I want to share it with you.

Before I do, though, I just want to say that on the heels of the recent My VCH survey, I know we have a lot to do together to create the space for more moments like Nem describes but, nonetheless, I’d love to hear more about your thoughts and experiences from the front line; about where you find inspiration or meaning, and how it helps you provide compassionate care. By sharing these moments, we get a clearer picture of where we need to be and why.

Thank you, Nem, for putting your thoughts down in an email. I can’t tell you how much your words meant to me on what would have otherwise been a routine Monday morning.


Jennifer MacKenzie

The human connection in healthcare

I joined the Experienced Resource Nurse Team at Richmond Hospital in 2011, having spent most of my working years focusing largely on the “science” of nursing, I knew there was something more powerful and tangible that my work provided for me; something more meaningful that made me want to return the next day and had me loving what I do.

It soon became apparent that it was the quality of my interactions with my patients which led me to explore the “art” of what we do and then try to use those learnings to uplift and inspire others.

I am really passionate about helping nurses find joy in the work they do through the power of their interactions with their patients. I believe that the quality of our heartfelt connections can positively affect patient outcomes and improve retention of our nurses, it changes our attitudes about the workplace and creates a transformation of culture, where people feel engaged, supported and their work has meaning.

As I consciously began to explore ways in which I could strengthen my connections with them,  I noticed how this automatically began to show up in my work in many ways. Here is one story that illustrates this important work.

Some time ago, on a crazier-than-usual day at work, I was frustrated by trying to play catch up. I was running around my patients, busily trying to complete my tasks, as my work had fallen behind due to an unforeseen incident. One patient in particular was constantly on the call bell for what I considered ‘little things.”

Despite how many times I trooped down the hallway to her room to do what we nurses phrase as “non-urgent duties” — picking up used Kleenex from under her bed, getting her juice and then ice for her drink, putting her clock the “right way” on her bedside table — she continued to press the bell each time I left the room. She could see that I was getting quite exasperated, and I admit that she may have seen me roll my eyes at least once. But the truth was, my mind was getting the better of me and I could feel my blood pressure rising. I knew I needed to do something because the situation was creating bad energy for me and for those around me.

At that point I decided I was going to take a couple of minutes to sit with her on her bed. I asked her, “What’s the one thing I can do to make your day better?” and then I listened…and that is all I did. I listened and I listened.

She shared her feelings about being in hospital and the fear of losing her health. She talked about the possibility of having to give up the house that had been her home for the last 50 years, and of her beloved cat. She cried as she talked of the agonizing grief she felt after the recent passing of her husband.

She seemed surprised that I was sitting with her, aware that the morning is usually the busiest part of a nurse’s day. She showed her appreciation by reaching out to touch my hand, and I reached forward to give her a hug.

I learned something that day; that there was a frail person in the hospital, alone, scared, afraid for her health, and of what might come from her being there. All she wanted was to know was that someone cared enough to make her feel safe; maybe even a little special…and that she mattered.

In the short time it took for me to reach out to her — and remain present for her — I noticed for the rest of the day that she remained calm, rested and relaxed. And something else, I felt that I had done something very important.

As nurses, we pass by the faces of the SCARED and VULNERABLE every day. Yes, every day. We need to stop and really see them. We must make them feel safe and secure in our hands. But how do we do this with our numerous tasks? Is it possible? Can it be done? I say a resounding YES, it absolutely can!

My interaction with this patient took me no longer than three minutes. And if you only have time to ask one question, make it this one:  “What is the one thing I can do for you today that will make your day better?” By asking it, you are sending out the message that this patient matters.

A stressed or burned out nurse is of no use to patients. I believe if we can integrate mindfulness into our own self-care plans, we can minimize this occurrence.

Being mindful brings receptivity to whatever is happening and can deepen our understanding of clinical situations, relationships with our patients and colleagues, and, ultimately, ourselves. Taking a few slow, mindful breaths before entering a patient’s room can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, causing the “relaxation response” which, in turn, can help you feel more centred and more fully present with the patient. We owe this to ourselves if only to see what joy it can bring to our day.

I have learned that there are countless ways for me to show up for work. I take responsibility for what I want to create in my day, and this is one way I bring more value to what I do. Simple steps like these are sometimes all it takes. Please try and see how it works for you.

– Nem

  1. Melanie Rydings

    Nem… What a wonderful leader you have become. Proud of you and grateful that you are there for the new nurses to learn from.

    March 1, 2018
  2. nem

    Thank you Rishma so enjoyed reading this; awesome !!

    February 21, 2018
  3. Rishma Dhalla

    How truly inspiring! Nem, can you tag along with all of us at work on a daily basis?

    Although I don’t work in the mayhem that acute care can be at times, I also find that being mindful and forming connections – meaningful, sincere, and heartfelt connections – with our clients goes such a long way in their healing and recovery. And guess what? It actually results in job satisfaction for me!

    Over Christmas our family experienced the other side of care at Richmond Hospital – the patient side. It was so interesting to me how the 4 units that my mother-in-law traveled through in her journey were all so different in their connections with her and us, as her loving and supportive family. We were the vulnerable ones, the scared ones – and we certainly can attest to the message you share about taking a few minutes to really listen and find out what is in the heart and mind of the patient. Kudos to the Diagnostic Unit and the Palliative Care Unit – you all went above and beyond for us and showed your care and compassion in so many ways.

    Some of the principles you speak about, such as mindfulness, deep breathing, the relaxation response – these are all principles I teach my clients who attend my stress management classes in the Healthy Heart Program. Perhaps a joint effort of some sessions for staff may be a good idea?

    February 8, 2018