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Nurse Specialist Has NG Tube Placed to Better Understand What Her Patients Experience

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Medical professionals are trained to be knowledgeable in their specialty and skilled at the procedures they perform but if they don’t have a health condition themselves, it can be difficult to empathize with patients.

This gap in understanding is what led Nurse Specialist Dorcas Boamah to have a nasogastric (NG) tube placed by a coworker on Jan. 7. The following day, she shared a post on Instagram about her experience with an NG tube, explaining why she consciously chose to have it placed.

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Yesterday I decided to put myself in my patients shoes ,I work as a nutrition clinical nurse specialist were I lead on nasogastric tube(NG) insertion , my role includes training nurses on how to place these tube and among other things .I normally get involved with NG placement when there are any complex patient or to support the nurses . I made a conscious decision to have NG placed; the insertion process was a bit uncomfortable but I was relaxed so made it was easy to insert .I placed the NG at work and kept it until I reached home meaning I went on public transport with the Tube. Through education and knowledge I am able to understand how the tube works and through research I understand how patient feel when the tube is placed and how it affects their quality of life. I wanted to experience how patients feels and how it affects them, also to be more empathetic. As soon as the NG tube was placed, I suddenly felt very vulnerable, isolated and exposed .On my Journey home I had lots of gazes and sympathy such as offering me their sit .Of course if someone came and needed the seat I would have given it up. Now I put myself into my patients shoes I am able to get an inside of the emotional reality and physical reality. I think that NG tube should be more acceptable and we as a sociality can help normalise this.#feeding #feedingtube #ng #tube #wearebeautiful #bodyconfidence #normalisetubefeeding #nurse #doctor #nhs #loveournhs #empathy #lfl

A post shared by Dorcas Boamah (@dorcasboa) on

As a nutrition clinical nurse specialist, Boamah trains nurses on NG tube placement or assists in the placement when the patient has complex medical issues. Nasogastric tubes are used to transport food and medicine from the nose to the stomach for patients who are unable to eat or swallow. NG intubation may be required if a person has experienced a head or neck injury, has an intestinal blockage or is comatose. It may also be necessary for people with various chronic conditions, such as gastroparesis or cyclic vomiting syndrome.

Though NG intubation is a significant part of Boamah’s job, she had not experienced any of these health concerns herself and therefore did not know what the experience was like for her patients.

“I have patients explaining to me how uncomfortable it is and yes, I might have all the medical knowledge and things like that when it comes to placement, and obviously the size and things to watch out for for misplacement, but I do not know how they feel,” she said in a video posted to Instagram. “I can sympathize, but the empathy side is never there.”

To better understand the full reality of what her patients experience, Boamah put herself in their shoes and had an NG tube placed while at work. “The insertion process was a bit uncomfortable but I was relaxed so made it was easy to insert,” she wrote.

Boamah kept the NG tube in place until she got home, allowing her a glimpse into what it’s like to be out in public with a feeding tube.

“As soon as the NG tube was placed, I suddenly felt very vulnerable, isolated and exposed,” she wrote. “On my Journey home I had lots of gazes and sympathy such as offering me their sit. Of course if someone came and needed the seat I would have given it up.”

Boamah added in her video, “Going on the train and walking around with this tube in me and how people have reacted to me and how self-conscious I feel is just crazy.”

The experience gave Boamah insight into the emotional and physical reality her patients face, allowing her to be more honest and empathetic – qualities many patients crave from their medical professionals.

Mighty contributor Katrina Quarry, who lives with chronic pain, explained:

Med school will give you an incredible amount of knowledge. It’ll teach you the ins and outs of the human body. It’ll make you qualified to diagnose and treat diseases. All good things.

But it can’t teach you what it’s like to be young, undiagnosed and in huge amounts of pain. It doesn’t give you a glimpse into a patient’s private life, where you can see them clenching their teeth in the middle of the night, trying not to cry out in pain and wake their family up. You don’t see them collapse on the stairs or fall asleep at 5 p.m. Med school can’t teach you what it’s like to have  your “friends” abandon you one by one, or what it’s like to be stuck in bed while everyone your age is running free outside.

In short, passing med school doesn’t guarantee you know what our lives our like.

You could be a genius and have a medical textbook memorized, but if you can’t step into another person’s shoes and think about what it’s like to be in pain all day, every day… well, then you’re not going to be very good at your job.

While medical training is, of course, critical, many patients are especially appreciative of medical professionals who exercise compassion and empathy for the many ways health issues can impact a person’s life.

Boamah told The Mighty it’s important for healthcare workers to try to find ways to empathize with their patients. “I think empathy brings a deeper understanding of the patient,” she explained. “I feel there is an increase of trust when the patient knows you too have experienced it.”

Of course, not every medical professional will be able to step into their patients’ shoes quite as literally as Boamah. It wouldn’t be possible to experience life with a chronic or rare disease unless you truly have one, and you likely wouldn’t undergo a major, invasive surgery unless you actually required it. But Boamah says it’s still possible to practice empathy.

She said:

Stepping in our patients’ shoes can sometimes be difficult as not all illness[es] [are] relatable and [not] all health professional can sympathize. But if you have been in a patient’s shoes before, for example, as a patient [yourself], it is okay to share this with patients especially the ones who are anxious as they may feel they are not alone in it. A lot of times people feel isolated with their illness because we are not sharing our experiences. Understandably all experiences are different, but some can be relatable and it might be that act of empathy [that] might change a patient’s perspective.

Boamah’s efforts to better empathize with her patients are a perfect example of why it’s just as important for medical professionals to understand a patient’s life and reality as it is for them to have the necessary and knowledge training. The insight that comes from experiencing a health crisis or living with a medical condition is truly invaluable. We need more medical professionals paying attention to the full reality of the patient experience.

Lead photo via Dorcas Boamah’s Instagram

Originally published: February 13, 2019
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