How a pen and paper forged an important connection between patient and nurse
Erin Miller possesses the ability to bring relief to the soul as well as to the body. Miller, BSN, RN, a staff nurse in the Surgical and Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit (SNICU) at UI Hospitals & Clinics, values effective communication with patients, knowing it can make all the difference in their experience under her care.
“I do my best to communicate with patients so they can understand what’s happening,” she says. “A stay in the hospital can be a lot for some people. Maybe you’re sharing a room. Maybe you’re trying to recover quickly. Whatever it is, I just try to make sure patients feel as comfortable as possible.”
Recently, a patient with cancer was admitted to the SNICU, bleeding profusely from his mouth, nose, and trachea. Thinking quickly, Miller grabbed a pen and paper, using it to communicate with the patient who was unable to speak.
“She instantly raised my spirits,” the patient recalled. “She made me feel like she was there specifically to help me heal. Nothing I asked for ever was overlooked. Erin made it seem—by her attention to my needs—that life surely was worth fighting for.”
When caring for patients, there isn’t higher praise—and it was no accident that the patient responded so positively to her.
“Building trust and a rapport with a patient is vital,” Miller says. “I try to get to know them, and make sure they’re aware that I’m a safe person and I’m just there to help.”
The road to intensive care
Miller came to the SNICU directly after graduating from the UI College of Nursing in December 2019. Her work in nursing school reassured her that the fast-paced and sometimes unpredictable environment of intensive care would match her skill set.
“During nursing school, they often encouraged us to do a ‘Summer 10,’ a 10-week program on units of interest,” Miller says. “I was a nursing assistant on SNICU, and I just fell in love with the camaraderie and the workflow.”
Although it was the environment that appealed to her work style, so did the patients.
“A lot of times, patients are here because of trauma or something that just happened,” Miller says. “All of that can be very intense and confusing for patients. I felt like my skills would be able to help them through the process.”
Miller’s fascination with the brain also drew her to the unit.
“The brain is an amazing organ,” she says. “There’s so much we don’t know yet. Every case is always different, and I really enjoy the complexity of what we do. I like being challenged and developing my skills to problem-solve, and that’s a lot of my job.”
Teamwork benefits us all
In order to be able to effectively lift the spirits of her patients, Miller knows that she also must take care of herself.
Miller says her family members—specifically her fiancé, father, and sister—are an incredible asset when it comes to support. Mostly though, she attributes her ability to remain on an even keel to the support of her colleagues.
“When I was a new grad nurse, it took time to build up my confidence and knowledge of what we typically do in certain situations,” Miller says. “My colleagues were a huge part of that. We always work as a team. I credit our success to my co-workers who trained me and the culture of teamwork.”
But the ultimate payoff for Miller is having a role in positive outcomes for patients.
“Seeing them leave the unit—or seeing them come back and visit us before they’re discharged from the hospital—is the best part,” she says. “Being part of their story of getting back on the road to good health is really gratifying.”