The WellSpan Spotlight

Bright spots

WellSpan BrightSpot: Using flowers as the language of caring

WellSpan BrightSpot: Using flowers as the language of caring

Who: A group of patients at WellSpan York Hospital and York College of Pennsylvania nursing students. 

What: York College of Pennsylvania nursing instructor Rachael Lattanzio wanted to give nursing students a unique lesson on how to notice and respond to a patient's needs during their first semester of classes that involved caring for patients at WellSpan York Hospital. A nurse's ability to evaluate a patient through interacting and communicating with them is vital to patient care.

Lattanzio designed a project where student nurses helped patients on a medical-surgical unit create a flower arrangement or write a note to a friend or acquaintance.

Lattanzio reached out to the Strawberry Shop, a floral business in York, which donated tulips, daffodils, irises, and greens for patients who wanted to create an arrangement. She also brought cards and stamps for those who preferred to write a note to someone they loved or appreciated. 

"I thought how cool it would be to have my nursing students spend quality time with their patients and assist them in performing a task, all the while using the skills they have been building over the last semester to help them pull together the patient's story," Lattanzio says. "Nurses need to think outside the box. This activity helps them to use cues to critically think about a patient's diagnosis and care."

With the help of the nursing students, patients carefully put together arrangements for spouses or themselves, cutting and sorting flowers. A patient who had been largely unresponsive heard a roommate making a flower arrangement and became more alert and interested in what was happening in the room, wanting to participate in the activity as well. Other patients wrote notes expressing love for a friend who had recently lost a spouse or expressing thanks to WellSpan caregivers. 

The students picked up on subtle signs, such one patient's weakness on his left side, learning it was an effect of a medical treatment he was receiving. They also saw how spending time with a patient deepened their understanding of both the disease process and the human experience of being a patient in a hospital bed.

Words to live by: Mike Hafer, the nurse manager of the fourth-floor nursing unit where the project took place, says, "A lot of the patients really enjoyed it and the students were able to observe their patients by watching them do these activities. It gave them the time to spend more time with someone. Sometimes you just need to listen to what a patient has to say. You develop that relationship and they trust you more."

Lattanzio wants to teach students to have critical thinking skills but also compassion. She also wants patients to learn something from the experience.

"This is a reminder to patients," she says, "that nurses care about them and think about them and want them to experience joy."