Tips to Help Nurses Improve Patient Education Skills

Nurses continue to face overwhelming pressure in light of their role in care and serving as assistant technologists, in a way, and they must provide patient care and education as part of routine daily tasks to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes. Thus, to examine the role of nurses in the care setting, American Sentinel University, an accredited provider of online nursing degrees, recently published several tips and pieces of guidance for nurses to help them develop their patient education skills.

“There is a new emphasis on better discharge planning, patient self-management of chronic disease, and patient engagement,” said Beth Stuckey, RN, MS, CNE, assistant professor, nursing at American Sentinel University, in a statement. “Patient education is critical to all of these initiatives and nurses need to know what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to shaping patient behavior.”

Stuckey went on to say that patient education, like most nursing competencies, is a skill that develops over time, and it takes practice and commitment, adding that patient engagement should not be considered a one-time event, but rather part of an ongoing conversation with your patients to be most effective.

Take an individualized approach
The most common mistake a nurse makes in patient education is teaching based on the patient’s medical condition rather than on the patient’s individualized needs and learning ability, according to American Sentinel University. Thus, an individualized approach is one of the most effective methods and begins with an assessment of the patient’s needs and capacity to learn. Stuckey notes that when patients are in pain, medicated or experiencing emotional distress, their ability to concentrate and take in new information can be hindered. “So it’s important to assess the patient’s physical, psychological, and cognitive readiness to engage in learning,” she adds.

Keep the education patient-centered
Nurses need to provide information in the patient’s language or preference. Nurses should never assume that just because a patient speaks English that they can read or write in English, and never assume that the patient’s family members can interpret what you are teaching. An interpreter may be needed to increase the odds of success.

Support patient’s ownership of health
Nursing staff can no longer tell their patients what directions to follow. Caregivers must advocate their patient’s rights and help them to voice their thoughts, opinions and ideas, rather than just give a list of directions to them.

Use the teach-back method
American Sentinel University suggests using the teach-back method involving two-way dialog, which allows a nurse to more easily reinforce health information. When a nurse finishes teaching, they ask the patient to explain it back to them in their words.

Use patient interactions as an opportunity to teach
There can never be enough communication when nurses educate their patients. “We never know when will be the right time to discuss a topic and if that patient will absorb what we are teaching, so it is important to approach teaching in different ways and different times,” she said.

Patient Education and Career Advancement
Stuckey points out that nurses who discover they have an aptitude and passion for patient education can pursue jobs that allow them to put this critical skill to good use. She said it’s a win-win situation: “Nurses can advance their careers while providing enhanced care to their patients.”

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Scott Rupp


Scott E. Rupp is a writer and an award-winning journalist focused on healthcare technology. He has worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor, and he currently manages his own agency, millerrupp. In addition to writing for a variety of publications, Scott also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.

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