Nurse with nurse and doctor in the background

By Kimberly Hopkins MSN, RN
Nursing Instructor
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

One of the many foundational skills that I strive to pass on to future nursing students in one of my pre-nursing courses is effective communication. In this post, I want to share a few activities that I use to make the topic of communication skills for nurses as interactive as possible. How else can communication be taught if not interactively? The goal of these activities is to show students that there are many ways to communicate in nursing.

The first activity involves the following picture. Take a look at it and note what you think the drawing depicts.


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Do you see a mouse or an old man? When I display this optical illusion to students, I ask them to explain what they see and then debate over why the picture shows one image over the other. The goal is to help them understand that perception isn’t always objective, and that communicating a difference of perceptions isn’t always easy.

In the second activity, I divide the class into pairs, with one student acting as the patient and the other as the nursing assistant. The patients leave the room for a little while while the nursing assistants study the following image:

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When the patient returns, the nursing assistant’s job is to describe to the patient how to draw the picture without ever having seen it. The catch is that the patient isn’t allowed to ask any questions. Once everyone has had a chance to give it a try, I show them the correct image and let them discuss their results.

We then do variations of the same activity with different images. In one method, the patient is allowed to ask questions – but no hand gestures are allowed. In another, the nursing assistant is not allowed to give verbal directions, and must instead write the directions down while the patient is still outside of the room.

These activities provide students with a chance to realize that communication comes in many forms, and that these different forms can lead to different misunderstandings. The variation in which students are forced to use written directions, for example, often reveals that not everyone has the same understanding on how many sides to an octagon!

All in all, these activities to reinforce communication skills for nurses are great fun. They prepare future nurses for the workplace by helping them realize that communicating with their patients isn’t always as easy as as they might expect.

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