Faculty Externships: Summer 2017

Pat Lawton
Pat Lawton

Communication instructor shadowed NP at Pediatric Services

Patria Lawton, a communication instructor at Inver Hills Community College, participated in a Faculty Externship program in July 2017. The program included two other Inver Hills faculty, Anthony Collins and Kathryn Klopfleisch, both English instructors. Pat completed her 40-hour externship at Pediatric Services in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She shadowed Kirsten Morse, a pediatric nurse practitioner.

The courses Pat teaches at Inver Hills cover public speaking as well as different forms of communication, including interpersonal, intercultural and small group. Her coursework focuses on the human element in the communication process.

“A lot of students taking my Interpersonal Communication course are in the Nursing program,” Pat said. “The purpose of my externship at Pediatric Services was for me to learn more about the healthcare environment. Nurses do real-time charting using a laptop or tablet when  they are interacting with patients. One of my biggest takeaways from the experience was driving home the need for nurses to establish the human connection when working with their patients.”

Inver Hills Community College received funding to support South Metro Perkins Consortium faculty wishing to participate in professional development experiences focusing on current and relevant industry practices. The externship experience would allow instructors to live a “day in the life” of Inver Hills career program graduates. The college’s Center for Experiential Learning developed infrastructure for faculty to participate in a variety of externships.

Pat added that nurses really need to listen to the stories their patients are telling. They need to apply their hard-earned nursing skills in concert with solid communication skills. Healthcare is more than just taking temperatures and checking pulses.

“People naturally assume they are good communicators,” Pat said, “but that’s not necessarily the case. Communication is a skill like a sport. The more you practice, the better you get.”

Pat stressed the importance of building strong listening skills while learning how to use reason to construct fact-based arguments. When students discover how to condense their thoughts into a more manageable form, they gain confidence and self-awareness. They are more thoughtful in their relationships, more inclined toward civic engagement and better prepared for the workplace.

More about Patria Lawton…

Pat Lawton

Pat Lawton

Pat started teaching full-time at Inver Hills in 2012. She has an M.B.A. in Business Administration from Augsburg College. She also has an M.A. in Communication from Bethel University, graduating with honors in 2006. She earned her B.A. in Communication Studies from Gustavus Adolphus in 2004.

Before coming to Inver Hills, Pat taught communication at Normandale Community College for two years. Before that, she worked as senior marketing and communications coordinator at Minnesota Wire .

Pat and her husband, Jeff, reside in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, with their 2-year-old son, Miles. When she’s not teaching, Pat enjoys spending time on the lake, reading, traveling and attending sporting events, theater and concerts.

Patria Lawton reflecting on her externship experience…

Q: What tools or approaches are used for communication (writing or verbal)?

A: There are several different ways in which the nurses, doctors and clinic staff need to be proficient at communicating. I was surprised at how much is done electronically, which requires strong written communication skills by our graduates. Each time a patient is seen or even talked to on the phone there needs to be a detailed and accurate description of what happened in case follow-up care is needed by someone else.

When it came to talking with the patients, verbal communication needed to be clear and appropriate. I observed firsthand how important it is that the patients and their families get accurate information without being bogged down by medical jargon. Most nurses are seeing people who aren’t having their best days and they need to be able to adjust appropriately and make sure that they are doing perception checks to ensure that the patient is on the same page as the nurse in terms of medical care going forward.

I think I was only partially aware of just how much a nurse in a clinic needs to juggle in terms of trying to talk to a patient face to face while charting and being in front of a laptop or tablet. This can be really difficult for the nurse—especially as they are just getting used to the electronic system being used by a clinic or hospital.

In my Interpersonal Communication courses, we often talk about taking care of the relationship-level communication while making sure that the content level of the communication is also clear. Spending time at the clinic made me really aware of how much that skill is needed and students need to make sure that while they are communicating with someone in a medical setting, they are building trust and creating a physiologically safe space while getting the information they need.

Patria Lawton, Communication Faculty, Inver Hills Community College

Most of the nurses walked in and put their computers down and made eye contact right away and made a connection with the patient before sitting down on a stool and starting to chart. I observed this practice to be really effective and will pass this along to my students with emphasis that it is important to make that initial connection and build trust before diving right into medical history, etc.

I also got to observe several appointments where there was a Somali interpreter present. This added another layer of difficulty in making sure that the communication was clear. In an increasingly multicultural society, the ability to adapt when dealing with patients from another culture is such an important skill.

I got to talk to several nurses about their experiences dealing with people from minority cultures and religions including a large Orthodox Jewish population and just being aware as a medical care provider that you have to adapt and recognize the platinum rule (treat others as they would like to be treated) and understand a treatment plan that may not necessarily be the best, but something that is workable for the patient that they are comfortable following through with. It does no good to prescribe a course of action that will not be followed.

This was amazing to witness and talk about because we often think that there is just one answer when it comes to medical care, but we have to be sensitive to the fact that different approaches need to be taken based on a number of factors and that medical care can’t be a one size fits all, but rather, the medical staff—including the nurses, need to be able to listen well, assess the situation and adapt to formulate a plan that will work for everyone.

Kathryn Klopfleisch

Kathryn Klopfleisch

Kathryn Klopfleisch

Kathryn’s externships were related business, accounting and human services students who take ENG 1130 Writing And Research Skills, a 4-credit course that emphasizes critical writing, reading and thinking with attention to rhetorical elements such as argumentative structure, audience and purpose.

Kathryn completed three externships at Devoted Business Consulting (business), HIRED (human services) and Key Community Bank (accounting). After her externships, she answered a number of reflection questions, including the one below regarding her time at Key Community Bank:

Q: Describe an “aha” moment that you had during your externship. How will you integrate this experience into your coursework?

A: My “aha” moment from Key Community Bank is that a number of employees are entering the workplace with some of the same “customer” mentalities with see in students. For example, Greg [Greg Dennis, Key Community Bank president and CEO] indicated that employees will expect to earn raises simply because they have come on time or not taken sick time, not because they have made themselves additionally valuable. In college, we see students who believe they should pass a class simply because they attended it.

Another “aha” moment came when Greg was showing me a credit profile report in which a credit analyst needs to explain why a business’ income changed. According to him, most employees are great with numbers—they can easily say, “This business made X amount of money last month compared to this month.”

However, part of the report includes a narrative in which employees need to write why a business’ income went up or down. Most employees really struggle with this part, even after a great deal of coaching about how to do this and why it is important. A final “Aha” moment came when Greg said that the vast majority of the communication they do with clients is via letter—even if the letter is sent as a PDF attachment to an email.

Anthony Collins

Anthony Collins

Anthony Collins

Anthony’s externships were related to nursing, law enforcement, criminal justice and paralegal students who take ENG 1111  Research Writing in the Disciplines and/or ENG 1145 Introduction to Technical Writing. The former is a 2-credit course that emphasizes textual analysis of primary and secondary sources with focus on writing in students’ academic and/or professional disciplines; the latter is a 3-credit course that introduces students to developing, writing, and presenting information in technical settings, including the use of graphics to enhance visual appearance and usability.

Anthony completed four externships, one at Dakota County Attorney’s Office (paralegal), one at the Dakota County Probation Service Center (criminal justice), one at the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office (law enforcement) and one at St. Croix Hospice (nursing). After his externships, he also answered a number of reflection questions, including the one below regarding his time at the Dakota County Attorney’s Office:

Q: Describe an “aha” moment that you had during your externship. How will you integrate this experience into your coursework?

A: Drug Court works in two stages where the legal professionals collaborate before they reach the courtroom. All decisions are finalized and everyone is on the same page BEFORE they enter the court. Naturally, communication about those interests and outcomes must be absolutely clear; otherwise the seriousness of the court proceedings will not make an impact.

Court is treated as in Aeschelus’ The Eumenides, i.e., a way to rehearse publicly the accomplishments and failures of defendants. Defendants are hyperaware of the fates before them, and many are trying to persuade the court, including a prosecuting attorney, or their new authenticity. The judge is trying to encourage defendants to think more than five minutes ahead, and most people in the courtroom are fully aware of how successful things are going.

Outside of the drug court, I spent the afternoon interviewing or shadowing paralegals and office staff. They gave me insights into how the offices and courts function together—again, more collaboration—and even how such simple things as deadlines for court filing can be very complicated indeed. They also described their hiring practices for applicants; I think I can readily bring this back into the classroom for my students.

Another member of the staff, the victims’ representative, had the role of explaining the law and each court action to the families. I found that interesting as a communication challenge because she had to translate the language of the court for the lay person—and often the grieving family member. She had to be counselor as well as lawyer to do her job successfully; and her audience when she was communicating was the family (obviously), but also the multiple lawyers involved in the case. This was very interesting. I had heard of victims’ statements being read out in court before sentencing, but I didn’t realize the length or breadth of involvement, nor did I realize the kind of time families spent in the office awaiting the courts’ actions.

To learn more about the Faculty Externship program at Inver Hills, contact:

Emily Johnson
Center for Experiential Learning
651-450-3241

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