Can improv help nurses communicate? Meet Beth Boynton

How long have you been a nurse and what areas of nursing did you or do you currently work in? 

I became an RN in 1986 and have been active in direct care most of this time; home health, occupational health, long-term care, some work with insurance and of course med-surg! Now I primarily work as a consultant and specialize in communication and collaboration. I do workshops, leadership coaching, medical improv and a kind of consulting called, ‘Whole Systems’ that is helpful in culture change work. I just developed a continuing education course with Pedagogy Online Learning Systems called 4 Essential Communication Strategies that Promote Patient Safety. It can be challenging to teach what I consider to be important ‘people skills’ in a virtual environment and tried to push this learning edge by including my own videos.

 I’m also very excited about a textbook I’ve written called Successful Nurse Communication: Safe Care, Healthy Workplaces, & Rewarding Careers. It is being published by F.A. Davis this Spring and I’ve been working on it for almost 3 years. I also publish a blog called, Confident Voices in Healthcare. It is for all healthcare professionals and consumers and seeks to make care safer, kinder, fairer, and more cost-effective.

Tell me your biggest pet peeves about nursing.

There is a pervasive lack of respect for the complexity of the work we do. We need to respect ourselves, each other, and work in cultures that support our work. Physicians, consumers, and healthcare leaders and other healthcare professionals must also respect the work of nurses. 

What do you love most about nursing?

As a direct care provider, it is the privilege of using my skill set to be helpful to patients during vulnerable times. As a teacher, I love helping nurses (and other healthcare professionals) develop emotional intelligence, form respectful inter-professional relationships, and see how both are vital for optimal care and joyful career paths. 

What throws you off balance and how do you know you are out of balance?

Relentless stress. I can tell when I’m easily angry or 
frustrated at something that seems out of proportion. For example I might be irritated about having to go to an inservice in the middle of a shift and I know the degree of irritation is more about the overall stress than anything to do with that inservice. Taking a deep slow breath is helpful in the moment as a temporary fix. I don’t think this is a substitute for overall reasonable workloads however. 

What brings you back into balance?

I’ve become pretty good at taking care of myself and maintaining a work-life balance that works for me. Zumba, walking, swimming are some of my physical outlets. I enjoy time with friends and journaling. I have one son who lives in India. He’s my biggest blessing and a Skype with him is often rejuvenating. I left a direct care per-diem job at a corporate long-term care facility last August. I was tired of chronic understaffing and the lack of respect I mentioned earlier. Also, my textbook and consulting work were requiring more time. I’ve done some private duty and perhaps will do some more. I don’t know if I’ll do more direct care in the future. If I do, I hope that it is with an organization that wants to make safe care the priority and support nurses and nurse assistants in their work. 

Tell me about your most favorite nursing job and why.

I love using theatre improvisation activities to teach communication and collaboration skills to healthcare professionals. It is a magical and fun way to build emotional intelligence, critical thinking, assertiveness, and so much more. I’ve learned a lot in taking improv classes as a hobby about my own assertiveness. Where I hesitate to contribute an idea or offer feedback in the moment is a rich growing edge of emotional intelligence. And with improv, there is an element of listening to others that is going on so that at any given moment one person might be learning to speak up while another is learning to be a more respectful listener - all the while building positive relationships and decreasing stress. I think it is the magic potion we need right now to make care safer and improve patient experience, staff morale, and over all collaboration. 

What advice would you give to new grads starting out?

Respect yourself and your colleagues. That includes making yourself the priority sometimes and having a healthy work-life balance and respecting your peers as they do the same even though their methods and balance are different.