Communication between patients and health care providers has always been an important topic. Specifically communication between teenagers and health care professionals, a study conducted by Jacobson and others (2001), shows that there has not been much research that specifically show how teenagers relate to the health services. Using the communication aspects of that study, the description of group dynamics shown in the textbook and the assigned readings, we will try to show a more effective way to communicate with teenagers as a health care professional.
Power in a Group
With few exceptions, most teenagers feel the need to belong to a group. For a teenager group dynamics help to define his or her identity. If we can understand how group dynamics work, we can then use that information to develop a strategy to help us as health care professionals communicate effectively with teenagers. Adler (2010) defines power as “the ability to influence others” (p. 308). There are many ways to influence other people using the different types of power. We will review a few of them in order to get a better understanding of what level of power we can have in a group. We will not be discussing if the “power” or level of influence in the group is used for good or bad, only that it is present.
Legitimate power is defined as power received because of title or position. A parent, a teacher or, in our case, a nurse or paramedic, has this kind of power when first approaching a patient. This kind of power is usually acquired through an authority that is recognized by society. We accept this authority because they have a position above us in the chain of command. The end result is the person with the power has the major influence.
As a nurse or a paramedic, the uniform, the tools we use and even the environment we are in, are common ways that people recognize our title, is also highlights power and influence that comes with our title. This allows us to approach a patient and get their attention so we can begin their assessment and treatment.
Expert power comes from what lies behind the title; perceived knowledge “what we believe that they know or can do”(Adler, 2010, pg. 385). Nurses and paramedics are excellent examples of expert power. We respect their authority not because we know his or her personal background, what university they graduated from or how much experience that they have, but because the person has a professional title that we know has to be earned. This earned title means that the professional has certain level of knowledge in health field and we are more likely to follow their instructions because of it.
After we present ourselves as a nurse or paramedic, it is our job to confirm the first impression caused by our uniform and shows the patient that we know how to do our jobs. Once we are assessing the patient it is important to demonstrate our medical knowledge and the experience we have while performing procedures. We do this in order to make the patient feel more comfortable with us and give them more confidence in communicating with us about their current condition.
Referent power comes from the interactions with the members of a group. It is not bestowed upon a person like the legitimate power and it is not related to the power a person gets because of their knowledge in a particular subject like expert power. The referent power is earned because of the respect that person has earned from the group. There are many important factors that we need to be considering when earning this kind of power; earning trust and admiration of the group member’s and likability, all take part in gaining this kind of power.
Leadership is the word that best describes referent power. When a person becomes a leader, they support and push the group toward a common goal that is the best for everyone. Leadership is a skill, not a quality; nurses or paramedics need to develop this skill to have a better have a way to communicate with our colleagues and patients, especially our teenaged ones. Losing referent power. When a leader fails to be an effective, the ineffective leaser will lose the referent power they had gained.
In one study a teenager was asked how they felt while talking to a doctor, they described there interpretation of a doctor as “an authority figure who communicated briskly” (Jacobson, October 2001, p. 813). This statement show the failure in meeting a teenagers need to. The results of the study show that most teenagers don’t trust their trust and respect their health care professional. The results of the study show that most teenagers don’t trust there health care professionals and this can lead to them failing to disclose important medical information.
Communicating with a Teenager Patient
Legitimate, expert and referent power demonstrate a persons ability to gain power and influence within a group. Returning to our main topic, we know that teenagers have a group mentality. This means that one way to get and maintain their respect is to use referent power. By using the skills of a leader, we are much better to able to connect and to build relationship with out teenaged patients.
When we first have contact with a patient we inherently have both legitimate and expert power with us; then begin to develop the referent power and earn the trust and respect of that patient. If we are successful the patient will cooperate with us and we will have a good and open communication. This works for almost every patient, but if the patient is a teenager, we also have one extra challenge, time.
Teenagers usually make quick decisions; they don’t usually take the time to consider all ramifications or consequences of their choices. We have to make sure they know we are there to help them and that they are important to us as a person. To earn their trust, they have to feel like they are being treated as an adult, not like another bratty teen and this must be accomplished in a short period of time due to the teenager’s tendency towards quick decisions
To summarize, we have described a few of the different types of power a person can have in a group, legitimate, expert and referent. Then we further explained how you go from legitimate and expert power to the referent in your dealing with teenaged patient and how using referent power and being a leader is always your best option. This is so not only can we work better with them but we can do a better job as a health care providers overall.
Adler, R. & Rodman, G. (2006). Understanding Human Communication. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
Jacobson, L. Richardson, G. Parry-Langdon, N. Donovan, C. (October 2001). How do teenagers and primary healthcare providers view each other? An overview of key themes. The British Journal of General Practice, 51(471): 811–816. PMCID: PMC1314126
Sieh, A.& Bretin, L. (1997). The Nurse Communicates… (pp. 85-102). Philadelphia,
PA. WB Saunders Company.