In for Treatment, Out with a Smile

Photo by David Christopher

Mark McLaughlin, RN, ADN (left).

By Kadesha Thomas

Mark McLaughlin, RN, has found a formula that works for his patients: a smile, humor plus honesty. Zipping around the interventional radiology unit in bright purple scrubs and a grin, he might be inserting a portable catheter in a patient with kidney failure or administering a sedative to a cancer patient before a procedure.

Regardless of the patient’s medical condition, McLaughlin relies on this welcoming demeanor to put patients and their family members at ease. “My opinion is that if you can get them to laugh, they’ll hear you out,” said McLaughlin, who has been at the University of Chicago Medical Center since 1997 and in interventional radiology for three years.

Having previously worked on several inpatient units, including psychiatry, general medicine and intensive care, McLaughlin said that outpatient care differs because he only has a few hours with most of his patients before they are discharged. The patients often need more than just clinical treatment; they need emotional support and reassurance to cope with their illness. McLaughlin said his main goal is to take advantage of his time with them, offering that support, as well as educating the patient and family about the patient’s condition.

“If they have a guard up, they are not going to hear anything I say about how to take care of themselves when they get home,” said McLaughlin, adding that his mother, a nurse for 55 years, instilled in him that advocating for the patient is the top priority. “If we do well with teaching, the patient is less likely to have complications, and we can alleviate the family members’ anxiety. Teaching is a big focus in our department.”

That’s exactly what happened when McLaughlin was caring for one of his patients, a 45-year-old man who was battling esophageal cancer. “Mark was very calming and reassuring with a smile,” said Marlene Butler, the patient’s mother, leaning over her son’s bedrail. “The best thing is he explained everything — what was happening and why.”

Butler and her daughter, Kathleen Unes, jokingly applauded when McLaughlin shyly mentioned that he had received the Award for Nursing Excellence in an Outpatient Area during Nurses Week 2010 in May. “Well, he totally deserves it,” Butler said. “He’s been great.”