As a nurse practitioner, graduate instructor, and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Graduate Program Director at South University, Novi, Dr. Michele McMahon's communication skills are a large part of her success.
"Communication has to be the basis of our program, of our educational system, and of how we work together as colleagues," says McMahon, who has an open door policy with her students and encourages all instructors in the FNP program to do the same.
With dual certification in acute care and family nurse practitioner as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree to her name, McMahon considers what types of communication her academic experiences have lacked or benefitted from, as she teaches other RNs the fundamentals of working as an advanced practice nurse.
"When I graduated about nine years ago with my acute care degree, there was a significant gap between what I was taught in school and what I was really doing in practice," she says. "I use that as a basis to teach my students, and say, 'These are the things that I struggled with when I got out of school.'"
McMahon also allows students to identify their own areas where they need to improve, getting to know the students and their nursing experiences when they start the class and then discussing their growth as the class progresses.
"I prompt them, 'Let's talk about where you're at now from where you were five weeks ago. How well do you feel like you've grasped this information? Looking at syllabus for the rest of the term, what things are missing?,'" says Dr. McMahon. "If I have time, we'll squeeze those in. If not, I will find resources for students so they can get that additional information."
Student surveys are another valuable tool she uses for gathering feedback from students, identifying topics students found difficult to grasp or aspects of courses that they believe could have done differently. Gathering and reviewing this feedback allows McMahon to continuously be improving the FNP program and its courses.
McMahon's teaching also relies heavily on her clinical and bedside nursing experiences. "You can read whatever you want in the books, but until you're approached with a specific situation it doesn't become real to you," she says. "Scenarios and real life examples are so important for student learning."
Currently, McMahon works in home health assessment, conducting outpatient visits in which she completes physical exams and medication reviews as well as provides patient care. On such visits, McMahan spends much of her time educating patients, their families, and their caregivers for disease prevention and health promotion—covering everything from explaining the purpose of their various medications to reviewing their chronic illness and its impacts. This work also involves careful listening and observing.
"You have to identify the barriers keeping them from the things they need to do to maintain their health," she says. "Sometimes they don't have anyone else, and your visit once a year is something that they look forward to. Oftentimes people are embarrassed. They don't want to say something's wrong, that they don't have enough money to pay their bills or that they don't have a way to get to their appointments, or whatever the case may be."
By listening and evaluating the situation, McMahon helps find patients the support they need, whether through social services or connecting them to a community support group.
Outside of her home health work, McMahon provides critical care as a Nurse Practitioner Intensivist at St. John Oakland Hospital, where, in 2014, she was named Nurse Practitioner of the Year for the St John Health System.
For other nurses, her advice is to always be eager to learn and to help educate others. "We all were a new nurse once or a new student once or have grown from someplace," she says. "We have to support each other to get us where we need to be. We need each other."
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