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  1. Section Editor(s): Laskowski-Jones, Linda MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM

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The mother of a nursing colleague was hospitalized recently. My colleague e-mailed me to ask what I thought about nurses calling patients "hon" or "dear" and the like. She expressed her amazement at how often nurses seemingly everywhere referred to her mother that way. She began to wonder whether her negative reaction just stemmed from being "old school."

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Do you think that my colleague is overreacting to the very common, innocent use of terms of endearment? If so, I'll ask you to imagine for a moment that your nursing supervisor or perhaps even the CEO of your healthcare facility becomes one of your patients. Would you be inclined to refer to him or her as hon or dear? I sincerely doubt it. To use any term other than the individual's name would be unthinkable for vast majority of us in a scenario like this. Why? It's a matter of respect.


Granted, some patients don't seem to mind and might even respond positively under certain circumstances, but really good judgment is needed here. More often than not, these terms can come across as trite, condescending, or paternalistic to patients who are trying hard to preserve their sense of dignity in a healthcare setting, where maintaining dignity is a significant challenge. Patients might feel a loss of personal identity and may suffer a greater sense of powerlessness during and after the interaction. And if the nurse-or another member of the healthcare team-reverts to hon, dear, or even sweetie because he or she can't remember the patient's name, now we could also have a patient safety risk. (To see how our readers responded to a question on this issue, see Survey Results in Clinical Rounds on page 32.)


In our basic nursing education program we learned to always initially address patients by their formal names, generally preceded by Mr. or Mrs./Ms. as a way to confirm identity and establish a professional connection. After the formal introduction, the patient then might ask us to call him or her by a first name or nickname-or we can ask for a personal preference. Once we know the patient's wishes, we can respond accordingly.


The level of respect that we receive is often a reflection of the respect that we give to others. How would you like to be addressed?


Until next time,


Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM

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Editor-in-Chief, Nursing2015 Vice President, Emergency & Trauma Services Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.