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March Articles

By Pat Mahan, Founder,

Hi, gang - hope this finds you doing well. We remain so impressed with Stephanie and the work she is doing to help make the student nurse's life a little easier. Over the next few months I want to share with you some thoughts on one of the most complex human tasks. Complex and intricate, tender yet capable of unparalleled power, little time is spent teaching and coaching it. Of course I am referring to communication.
Through this series, we will help you:
Communicate effectively, both verbally and non-verbally;
Recognize different communication styles and identify your own;
Overcome barriers to effective communication;
Identify keys to building rapport; and
Manage conflict effectively.
Now because I know how busy you are, I'm going to keep these articles a little shorter. I can hear a few of you breathing better already, pulse rate dropping, B/P stabilizing- "Doctor, I think this student nurse is going to make it ;-)"

Basically, humans communicate to one another in three fashions; do you know what they are? Speech and writing probably come quickly to mind, the third is non-verbal communication. Non-verbal is considered to be far stronger than word content itself. I have an older brother, who as I remember, did most of his communication with me using non-verbal styles. Mostly funny but rarely verbal.

What is non-verbal communication? Many people have learned that it is body language. Consider this, body language cannot explain why two people read the same article and have a very different reaction to it.  And if you've ever written more than two words together and had it sent to a group of people, you know what I'm talking about. That's because non-verbal also comprise two other factors: "filters" and "environment".
Body Language
Facial Expressions
Tone of Voice
Eye Contact
Subtle Eye Movement
Filters are basically one's life experiences and prejudices. Yes, I said prejudices; once you've made your mind up on a subject, you have become prejudiced. The number of prejudices we have is limited only by our ability to close our minds to a subject. .
Environment too can play a role in how we communicate. The way you speak to a mother whose sick child you are caring for, would be very different than the way you would speak to this same woman, if you saw her at the grocery store and didn't know her child was sick.

It is estimated that non-verbal communication comprises 80% of the message. This means you better choose your words wisely and be aware of your own body language tendencies. Don't believe it's that high? Try this little exercise; I'd demonstrate it personally, but then I can't be everywhere at once, so you're on your own with this one.

Pretend you're about to see an old friend for the first time in a while. You reach both arms out for them and with a big smile, say "I'm so glad to see you," as you wrap them in a warm embrace. This is pretty straight forward. The body language matches the message.

Now, pretend instead that you bump in to an old nemesis at a party. You make eye contact and you roll your eyes. It (lol) walks over and says, "Hi, good to see you," and you put your hands on your hips, shake your head slightly, and say "I'm real happy to see you," with a bit of sarcasm thrown in. This mixed message, while not leaving any confusion in this scenario, can cause you problems in your work environment.

Indeed, the content hasn't really changed, but the difference between the two greetings is quite stark. In this case, it could be argued that the non-verbal portion of the conversation was one hundred percent of the message.

Keep in mind that as we go through this series, I don't suggest that any communication style is better than any other. There are times however, when one style may be the most effective in comparison to others. To truly master communication is a difficult task, and requires not only many skills, but keen observations, too. Next month, we'll look at four different communication styles. I'll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each, the potential conflicts between these styles, and ways you can adjust your communication style to work more effectively with others.

Finally let me advise that you apply the process actively, if you truly want to improve your communication skills. You will need to assess your actual problems and potential problem areas. Then devise a plan to strengthen those areas. Reassess from time to time, modify the plan as needed and then keep on practicing. It's just that easy.

Hope everyone has or had a great spring break. I'm leaving on a redeye flight tonight for FL for the free workshop we are offering to nurses and nursing students. Wish you could all be there with me. I'll be sure to leave the door open and let some of that sunshine and warmth come through. As always, please feel free to write me any time. I love hearing from students and will do all I can to help you succeed. Until next time....

About The Author
Pat Mahan is the nurse proprietor and designer of In his over 20 years of nursing, Pat has practiced in most clinical areas and has over 15 years management experience. Prior to launching, he was employed as a recruiter for the fifth largest long-term care company in the United States.

Pat’s eclectic range of titles include certified adult educator, speaker, parent, spouse and community volunteer. Other works of his can be found in many areas on the Internet as well, including some done as contributing editor for nursing at, and publisher of Nurses~4~Nurses, a bi-monthly nurs-e-zine. The sponsor of Top 100 Nursing Sites, Nursing Excellence Awards, and, he regularly returns to the nursing community that has been so good to him.

In March, Pat is sponsoring two half-day motivational workshops that will be offered free to nurses. The programs will be held in Melbourne, FL. These “Fanning The Flames” workshops will be presented by Linda Marie Sands of DreamQuest International. For more information you can write

By Stephanie Thibeault, The Student Nurse Forum

"It's been five months of chemotherapy, septic shock, diarrhea, liver lesions, kidney failure, hearing loss, intensive care, neutropenia and finally renewal. I write this as I await the final chapter: the rising neutrophil count that will signal a functioning bone marrow and cure from acute promyelitic leukemia. It's been a hard road to travel. It's the quality of the nursing care that made it bearable. (...) Blessed are the nurses who made us whole again, day and night; the nurses who came with a smile and a laugh, the nurses who read the fears behind our brave fronts, the nurses who held our hands through the bone marrow biopsies.(...)  Blessed are those who allay our fears, give us hope and nurse us through this nightmare."

Excerpt from a letter written to Carol Burnett, Head Nurse, Cedars Oncology and Haematology Unit, 7 Medical, Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, Canada.  This letter has since been published on the web and dedicated to oncology nurses everywhere.  To read the letter in its entirety, please click this link:

Oncology nurses care for those with cancer.  The complex needs of patients with cancer and their families require the special competencies, knowledge and skill of oncology nurses.  "Oncology nurses are drawn to the specialty by varied forces, but they almost all stay in the field for one reason – the patients, always the patients. A career in oncology nursing requires the high-tech skills of a critical care nurse, the psychosocial skills of a behavioral health professional, the organizational abilities of a medical surgical RN, the hope and spirituality of a chaplain, and the counseling and community contacts of a social worker. Compassion, a big heart, and a healthy dose of humor also are prerequisites for working in this field."*

The Oncology Primary Nurse is a cancer patient's main contact in the hospital setting, providing ongoing assessment, intervention and evaluation.  Additionally, the oncology nurse administers and monitors chemotherapy, advocates on behalf of the patient with other health care professionals, and provides education, referrals and support.

There are three certifications oncology nurses can pursue:  Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN), Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse (CPON) and Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse (AOCN).  Certifications are awarded by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation to those who meet the initial eligibility requirements and pass a national competency examination.  Eligibility requirements include minimum education and experience requirements, current RN licensure and 1,000 hours or more of oncology nursing practice (see link below for more details).

There are many opportunities for specialization and/or advanced practice in oncology, including: Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Oncology Nurse Educator, Oncology Research Nurse, Oncology Head Nurse, Hematology-Oncology Nurse, Surgical Oncology Nurse, Gynecologic Nurse Oncologist, Geriatric Oncology Nurse, and Radiation Oncology Nurse.

The links below provide additional resources if you would like more information on oncology nursing:
Oncology Nursing Society
Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses
Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation
Cancer Index: Oncology Nursing Links
Mercy Medical Center Oncology Nursing *

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