Reflecting on Meaning and ‘Not Knowing’ as a Nurse Coach

“If we can transform by a few years of quiet, persistent effort, the habits of centuries, our progress will have been slow, but amazingly rapid.” Florence Nightingale, 1894

There are pivotal times in your career that create deeper understandings and awareness. This blog is about one of those moments.

A few years ago, I facilitated a discussion in the Integrative Nurse Coach® Certificate Program. We were discussing the power of personal stories and the conversation quickly directed itself toward meaning.

There was a vase of beautiful pink, white and red roses on the table. I asked, “tell me, what do roses mean to you?”

One Nurse’s hand shot up, “My grandmother’s funeral.” Another voice said, “Celebration!”, and another, “I tend and care for roses in my garden, to me they signify life.” And still another said, “Beauty.” And further, “Love, my spouse gets them for me every anniversary”.

If every Nurse shared their thoughts about what roses meant, we’d likely uncover 25 different interpretations about the roses’ meaning. If we took it a step further, and asked them to share a story about the significance of their meaning of roses, many more personal and unique meanings would unfold.  And this is the absolute beauty of meaning.

Define Meaning

Dr. Barbara Dossey, co-founder of the International Nurse Coach Association, defines Meaning in Chapter 5 of the Nurse Coaching: Integrative Approaches for Health and Wellbeing as,

“That which is signified, indicated, referred to, or understood. More specifically: philosophical meaning– meaning that depends on the symbolic connections that are grasped by reason; psychological meaning– meaning that depends on connections that are experienced through intuition or insight; spiritual meaning– meaning around the ultimate issues, questions, and concerns such as ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is my soul’s purpose?’ ‘How am I part of the interconnected web of life?'”

As you can see, meanings are diverse and are intimately personal. Meanings bring significance to your life, enlivening experiences, culture, beliefs, values, and impacting your purpose.

Consider the Element of Not Knowing

Nurse Coaches must also consider the element of ‘not knowing’, which is a willingness to let go of fixed ideas and notions. Easier said than done.

As a Nurse you are called to be the expert in many situations. Some situations are emergent needs, like for example a code. A patient goes into cardiac arrest, and you must react, act, and make important decisions for the safety and wellbeing of that person. You jump into being protocol driven and a skilled specialist. Yes, you must be the expert in cases like these and you were trained to do so, and you do it well.  And what would happen if you let go of being the expert?

Throughout your daily interactions, many situations do not require your ultimate knowing, and yet, you may recall (with loving kindness) you may have inserted ‘your knowing’ without being asked and may have unintentionally stifled the meaning of a patient, client family member or friend’s story.  

One example to consider is discharge planning. Recall the last time you ‘gave’ discharge instructions. You may have listed the many things the patient must do as they go home. You handed over photocopied documents while the patient sat before you, eyes glossed over with overwhelm. Yes, you asked them, “Do you have any questions?” and they likely replied, “No, I’m good.” You approached this situation as the expert for the patient and you did it with good intention, you always do!

Imagine if I were to have approached the above rose question with a ‘knowing-ness’, saying something like, “everyone knows the rose is a symbol of love, do you agree?” The conversation likely would have been stifled and led to only one or two rose meanings.

Reimagine Discharge Instructions

So now, let’s reimagine discharge instructions while ensuring the patient is the expert.  You now become the conduit and sharer of information the patient wants, instead of the ‘giver’ of tasks and paperwork that you think the patient wants.

You might begin the discharge process with an open-ended question such as, “what are you looking forward to most as you get ready to go home?” or “What are you most interested in learning about when you think of yourself leaving here and living safely in your home?”

Imagine what could come of this personalized conversation when you let go of thinking you know what the person before you needs and wants.  Yes, you’ll still have to get all the paperwork completed, but you have now opened up the conversation for it to become meaningful.

What Could Happen if You Let Go?

What could happen if you let go of knowing, of being the expert and having the answer for all things?

A Nurse Coach trusts that fellow humans have their own capacities for healing allows them to connect to their own wisdom, meaning and truths.  Allowing space for open dialogue about the meaning of objects, emotions, experiences, illness, or health creates a deeper understanding for personalized, optimal health and wellbeing. 

The Integrative Nurse Coach® Certificate Program explores story, meaning and not-knowing deeply, encouraging you to come to your own personal importance of how you use Nurse Coaching skills in your life and your professional practice.

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After two decades as an Intensive Care Nurse caring for the sickest of patients, Nicole left the one-size fits all healthcare industry, and created Blue Monarch Health, where she is; Active Aging Specialist, Health Protection Expert and Head Motivator! Instead of waiting for you to get sick, she meets you where you live, work and play, to enhance your health and vitality.
Nicole listens deeply, and takes you by the hand to co-create a health and vitality plan with you, so you can really do it in your life. She is an authentic, heart-centered stick of dynamite, who focuses your energies, builds up your strengths, and leverages your unique gifts!
Nicole Vienneau achieved a Master’s in Nursing Science from the University of Arizona, a board certification in Integrative Nurse Coaching from the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation, and is Senior Faculty with the Integrative Nurse Coach® Academy. She is a Functional Aging Specialist, personal trainer, yoga teacher, and group fitness instructor and a retired Reebok-sponsored Fitness Athlete.  When she’s not coaching clients or writing blogs, or hosting the Integrative Nurse Coaches in ACTION! Podcast, you can find her teaching active older adult fitness classes, volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association, lounging in the sun with her cat babies, or on a hike with her awesome husband.
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