Knowledge is Power: Empowerment of the Self through Medical Education

Head Nurse Quality Assurance Chrissy Stockert, RN shares the importance of educating and empowering our clients, particularly our adolescent clients, to understand and communicate their own medical health and history. 

Chrissy Stockart

“Why don’t you tell me what medications you should be taking right now?” is a phrase I love to use. As a nurse, the answer I fear the most is “I don’t know.” When our clients first admit to treatment they can present with multiple medical complications at once. It is not uncommon to treat dehydration, abdominal pain, low blood pressure, and electrolyte abnormalities, among other things simultaneously. Once our patients begin to hydrate and nourish themselves those problems tend to resolve. As that happens, my work shifts and I get to do what I am so passionate about – educate, educate, educate. My goal is to prepare our clients so that “I don’t know” is not their response when asked about medical understanding and / or history.

One of the things I love about my job is that I have time to sit with our clients. I am able to have conversations and run groups with each one of them, so we can talk about how they are feeling, medical questions they have, medications they are taking and how these medications are affecting their bodies, what their labs look like and what it means, tests they’ve had and what the results mean, etc. I am able to teach them how they are ultimately responsible for knowing “all things medical” about themselves. This is such an important lesson because it can give our adolescent girls a feeling of empowerment. They are able to take the information I give them, process what it means, and use it as a tool to help them fight against their eating disorder.

One of the big differences between the medical treatment of adolescents and adults is the incredible way parents are involved when their adolescent child is admitted into treatment. With our adolescent clients, though, what this often translates to is “I don’t need to know, my mom knows all of it.” I love having the opportunity to redirect that thinking so our clients, though young, can truly be their own best advocate.

As a client begins to transition to a lower level of care, I try to work with her to create a realistic “medical” plan to follow. We try to look at realistic factors, like school, when we figure out what time she will take her medications. We look at her bone strength to figure out what kind of movement she can be involved in. And once we finish, rather than having the same conversation with her parents, one of my favorite things is when I sit down together with the client and her parents, and she is able to carefully, and correctly, explain her plan.

Here is a list of some things I like all of our ladies to know when they discharge from treatment:
• What medications they take, the dose of the medication, and what time they take it
• What tests were completed and what the results were
• What abnormal labs they have had and what we did to resolve the abnormality
• How their vitals have been while in treatment (were they low and now have normalized? Are they still low? Etc.)

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