“Respectful communication is the bedrock of medicine.” This simple, but powerful statement penned by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a Stanford Medicine neurosurgeon who succumbed to cancer in 2015, serves as an inspiration for Oligens Sulo, RN, MSN, skills lab coordinator and assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the College of Medicine.
“When teaching communication techniques to students, I always share Dr. Kalanithi’s story and ideas,” said Sulo. “I tell my students that whatever you do in the hospital, or other patient setting, remember respectful communication. It helps build patient trust.”
This is especially important when patients and their families are experiencing the many feelings often associated with facing sickness, says Sulo. “They may be anxious, sad or fearful, and may take it out on you as one of the primary care providers, but if you approach the situation with respectful communication and empathy, the patient will in turn respect and trust you, and the care you’re providing them,” he adds.
Sulo says that part of what helps nurses to be respectful and effective communicators is a focus on simplicity. The latter creates a framework of clarity on the nursing process that enable students to become critical thinkers. “I teach my students simplicity,” he said. “Whether in the simulation lab or in teaching didactic curriculum, I break everything down to simple terms that students will understand, so they can do the same for their patients. It helps them communicate with patients and provide holistic care, focusing on the patient as a whole, rather than just the disease.”
Sulo’s understanding of the power of communication came in 1998 in his native Albania, when he served as a volunteer translator helping refugees during the brief, but brutal war in neighboring Kosovo. Though he did not have any healthcare experience at the time, he ended up working closely with the medical team of a Norwegian NGO that was providing care to thousands of refugees.
“I helped the doctors and nurses communicate with the refugees, helping them understand the medical care they were receiving and how to take their medicines,” said Sulo. “I also witnessed the caring and compassion demonstrated by the healthcare providers. It made me realize the desire I had to care for people.”
Following his work as a volunteer, and with a drive to pursue a nursing career, in 2000, Sulo moved from Albania to the U.S. and landed in the nursing program at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. After earning his associate degree in nursing, he went on to earn his RN to BSN from Madonna University and his master’s degree in nursing from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
Sulo completed an internship at Oakwood Hospital and worked for two years in the surgical unit at Henry Ford Hospital and eight years at Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit, rotating through various units, including stints in trauma, observation and urgent care. It was during this time that Sulo began teaching nursing students.
In 2014, Sulo joined Roseman University’s College of Nursing where students have embraced his teaching style and communications techniques, especially in the nursing skills lab where students have an opportunity to fine-tune not only their hands-on clinical skills, but also how to interact with patients and other healthcare professionals.
“I’m a people person. Whether working in a hospital or teaching students, I build connections,” said Sulo. “I like to help students connect with patients and their peers as well. Respectful communication is what makes it possible.”
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