Business Advisor: Treat Your Patients Like First-class Passengers


5 simple tips from a flight attendant's crash course on patient care.

You never know where you'll learn lessons about caring for patients, so I'm always on the lookout for excellence in service that I can translate to patient care. On a recent flight, I encountered an exceptional flight attendant who was so good at taking care of those in her care on the flight that it was easy to make the connection between how we can better care for our patients by treating them like passengers.

We all have ideas about the role of flight attendants. Some view them as waitresses in the sky who serve us sodas and snacks from the beverage cart. They are there to provide for our comfort and enforce the rules. Those public perceptions of flight attendants are similar to those of nursing. Can you help me to the bathroom? Would you get me something to drink? Put aside your misconceptions and check out what one flight attendant, Krisztina, can teach us about caring for patients.

1 She quickly put the passengers at ease. As I got on the plane, Krisztina complimented me on my necklace and welcomed me aboard. I watched her do something similar as each passenger boarded the plane. Most veteran fliers are used to the routine of flying and even though they sleep through the safety announcements, we all know something could go wrong. I'm not afraid of flying and never have been. But I'm not a fan of being on the other side of the operating room table as a patient.

We've all heard the saying, "It's minor surgery until it's on you." I can tell you from my perspective, it's never minor surgery and I'm looking for someone to show they understand that. Even though it's routine to you as the nurse, it's anything but routine to me as the patient.

As nurses, our patients and family members rely on us to put them at ease and to trust that we're going to take great care of them. Having been a patient (and watched my husband as the family member), I know how frightened patients can be. Putting them and their family members at ease can make the difference between a good experience and a bad one.

2She smiled with her eyes. It's easy to tell when someone is genuine. Body language experts tell us that when someone is genuinely smiling, the areas around their eyes will crinkle (think Santa and the twinkle in his eye).

When someone is genuinely smiling, the areas around their eyes will crinkle (think Santa and the twinkle in his eye).

I once had a boss who would make a statement and then smile — with her mouth only. Her theory was that even a fake smile would make the message easier to digest. The flight attendant didn't have one of those fake smiles that said, "We both have to be here so let's make the best of it." It was a genuine smile that came from her eyes and told me she cared about my comfort. I was more than the person in seat 5C to her.

As a patient, that's what I'm looking for. Someone to look me in the eye with a genuine smile that shows they care. I've experienced the opposite when a rad tech verified my name and date of birth while talking to her co-worker about what they were doing this weekend. Neither of them ever looked at me, much less smiled. Talk about feeling like a number!

3She called people by their names. I watched Krisztina throughout the flight greet people by name. She had a list of passengers and their seat assignments and made a point to look them in the eye and use their name. How many times have we talked about the gallbladder in room 2? Or worse, went to meet the patient without taking time to look into their eyes and call them by name?

4She was compassionate. I watched Krisztina as she asked an elderly passenger about his family. She took time to listen to him and speak kindly to him. I've had more than one nurse show compassion to me. One commented on how my elective surgery had multiplied into many, and offered words of kindness as she wheeled me from my room to pre-op. She then bent down and gave me a hug — a much welcomed gesture. For comparison, think Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Cold. Heartless. Nobody wants Nurse Ratched. Patients tell us they appreciate pleasant people caring for them. I know I do.

5She was vulnerable, while being professional. In our short time together, she shared with me about the declining health of her father. My own father passed away 10 years ago, and we were able to commiserate on the challenges of taking care of loved ones during their declining health. Similarly, family members and loved ones of our patients are stressed during their illness, surgery and recovery. Any words of encouragement, kindness or vulnerability on our part will go a long way in relieving their stress and letting them know we understand.

Friendly skies

I know we don't have a lot of time with our patients. The good news is, the things the flight attendant did were brief, but meaningful to me. As you observe areas of excellence, whether in healthcare or some other industry, make a mental note to see how that excellence could be translated to better care for your patients.

As an OR nurse for more than 30 years, I had my own ideas about caring for patients. The biggest change to my career was when I became a recurring patient after an elective surgery went wrong. After 6 months of recuperation and 4 surgeries (2 of them emergent), I have come out on the other side with a renewed passion for patient care and the care of their families. OSM

Related Articles

September 28, 2023

There’s a significant problem in many operating rooms across the United States: Electrosurgical devices can cause significant patient burns and life-threatening fires...

September 27, 2023

At the beginning of 2021, only two U.S. states had enacted legislation mandating the use of smoke evacuation systems in every OR for every smoke-producing procedure....

Be Fundamentally Sound to Prevent Infections

One need look no further than the emerging threat from Candida auris (C. auris), a fungus that is highly resistant to drugs designed to kill it, to realize the importance...