As a nurse we can be afraid to use the phrase, “I don’t know.” Whether it is in the classroom or in clinical practice, the phrase suggests a vulnerability to the listener. Fear of acknowledging that we don’t know something can invoke feelings of shame, ignorance, or lack of confidence.
From personal experience, I have learned to appreciate that acknowledging when I don’t know something is actually an opportunity to build relationships, reinforce skills that are already there, and/or it starts my learning process.
When I was a student in the classroom or in clinical, saying “I don’t know” became a way to share my weaknesses with my preceptors and professors. It became the launch pad for valuable content discussion. The same was true for my student-colleagues as well. We were able to open up to each other, confide in one another, and learn each person’s knowledge base. The phrase also became an impetus for becoming a lifelong learner. Rather than feeling stupid I wanted to know more and I used a perceived weakness to my advantage to become a better nurse.
When in the clinical setting, and as a nurse practitioner, I use the phrase to be honest and real with my patients. I openly acknowledge my limits and skills to patients because this builds trust; and then I follow up with actions that find appropriate resources for care. For example, I might say to the patient, “this is really interesting. Let’s check my resources to see what we can learn, together.” So this becomes an opportunity to share reliable health information, resources, websites, or referrals with your patients. Other times, I will need to consult my physician colleagues – which is yet another opportunity to build relationships with physicians and establishes trust with my patient – that I will always to help and problem solve. And, my physician and nurse colleagues know that I will always keep my patient’s needs at the forefront of my work.
How do you feel when you don’t know something?
What did you do to overcome a knowledge deficiency?