I’ve always looked younger than I am by many years. Even people younger than me are fooled at times. Once in awhile, it has posed a problem with my patients – adults who have a hard time, as one put it, “taking orders from a damn kid”. To someone who’s lived 60 or 80 years, I must look like I belong outside playing hopscotch. So how do you get adult and geriatric patients to put their faith in your young, capable hands? I’ve got a few tips that have helped me out in these situations. Hear me out, guys.
Here are 5 ways to be taken more seriously when you look very young.
- Tighten up your aesthetics, folks. I aspire to live in a world where people of all gender identities are not judged by their appearance, but I’m not talking beauty standards here. To be treated like a professional, you must look like one. Get the nicest scrubs you can reasonably afford, lose the sloppy top knots, trim the beards, clean your nails and don’t cover your badge holder with stickers of your favorite cartoon character (even though there’s nothing wrong with adults watching cartoons). If you’ve already got a baby face or smaller stature, you don’t need anything else to make you look more juvenile.
- Your mother told you to stand up straight. Posture and body language are important. As a nurse, it’s tough to find the right balance between being perceived as a kind and approachable advocate and being the expert, in-control caretaker. Generally, stand or sit up straight and avoid looking like a shapeless blob of insecurity. This doesn’t mean you should tower over your patients in a Superman stance, but look confident and invested in the patient. Look at them when you are talking, don’t fidget, rock, or look nervous. They’ll pick up on your nervousness and before you know it, you’ve got a freaked-out patient on your hands. Gentle confidence in your posture will help you look like you know you know what you’re doing.
- Deepen your speaking voice This clearly doesn’t apply to people with already deep voices. This is directed toward the nurse whose instinct it is to raise their voice like they would with a child, attempting to seem friendly and happy. Not only is it infantilizing to your adult patient but it makes you sound like a 12-year-old anime character, not an experienced RN. Bring your voice down a bit. This may take some conscious effort on your part at first, but it’ll be worth it. There may be an added benefit. I learned in a class that as adults lose their hearing, they lose the ability to hear high tones first. Deepen your voice and you may find they’re asking “Eh, what did you say?” less often.
- Like, totally limit slang, man. It’s true that we speak differently today than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations did, and it can be a barrier to communication sometimes. Limit colloquial language unless you and your patient have a rapport that allows it. Say yes, not “yeah”, and “no” instead of “nah”. Avoid statements like “I know it totes sucks to take your meds, but, like, bottoms up dude!” I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is discrediting to your image as a professional. *Note: I have lots of patients I joke around or use slang with and they are a smart-ass right back…but it’s our established dynamic and I let them initiate this. Use your great nursing judgment.
- Show up knowing your stuff. Be prepared to take care of your patients when you clock in. Know your basic meds, especially if you’re working in a specialty area, and more importantly, know how to look things up. If your patient asks you questions about a med and you’re caught off guard, frame it as an opportunity for education. Print off some patient medication info sheets and take 2 minutes to go over it with them. It’s their right and it’ll teach you something. You don’t need to know everything, but you need to know how to learn on the fly. If they have a diagnosis you’ve never heard of before, please, Google that shit before you go into their room, if you can help it. You’ll be more knowledgeable and maybe it’ll earn you some trust points.
Take heart, my baby-face nurse brothers and sisters. While the struggle to be taken seriously is real, it’s not hopeless.
And when all else fails you can always tell them the truth -you’ve studied diligently for years to be able to take care of them safely. The baby face is just a genetic bonus.
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Got your own tips for upping your credibility game? Leave a comment.
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