Patient Family Advisor Rosemary Nichols shares insight into patient experience and emphasizes communication is key

Rosemary Nichols
Rosemary Nichols (NSHA)

As a wife, mother and grandmother, Rosemary Nichols says she’s spent her fair share of time at emergency departments over the years. 

When she saw that the Emergency Program of Care was seeking a patient family advisor (PFA) in the Halifax area, she viewed it as an opportunity to better understand the challenges and processes that unfold behind the scenes, and to lend her perspectives on patient experience.

Nichols was familiar with the role of PFA, having been a community advisor for the Community Health Team quality committee. 

Now retired, Nichols’ career and life experience includes a master’s degree in economics; a career with the federal government, including seven years at Health Canada; owning a business; and being a chartered mediator and an instructor in conflict resolution at St. Mary’s University. 

“I was looking for opportunities where I could make a contribution and also learn something – keep my brain going,” said Nichols of what drew her to the PFA role with Emergency. 

Nichols attended her first Central Zone Emergency Program of Care Council meeting in January 2019. She has since attended meetings monthly, sharing input.

With meetings being held at different sites, Nichols said she’s had an opportunity to see locations she wouldn’t have otherwise. 

“I have a much better understanding of how different facilities have different constraints. I also have a much better understanding of Emergency Health Services (EHS) and emergency department personnel and why patients are moved.”  

The biggest challenge of the role? 

“Terminology – understanding what everybody’s talking about,” she laughs. “If there’s something that strikes me, it’s usually about plain language.” 

Committee members encourage Nichols to speak up if there’s anything she doesn’t understand, which can be challenging in a world of acronyms.

Nichols has also provided input about patient experience in the emergency department. 

“I’m a universe of one so my experience may not be the same as other people,” said Nichols. “I took it upon myself to do a bit of research on patient experience. I was able to find studies and surveys done in other jurisdictions, have brought those studies forward. That’s been well received.”

The bottom line of the research, shared Nichols, is that, “Communication between health professionals and patients is key.” 

She stressed that it’s not so much the “what” of the communication but the “how” – tone, language and approach. 

“There’s still a lot for health professionals to understand about the patient experience,” she said. 

“By the time somebody gets to the emergency department they’re pretty stressed out. Even listening to understand while you’re stressed out takes more effort. From a patient’s perspective, it’s how they perceive they’re being cared for as opposed to the curing bit. It doesn’t actually take more time – it’s the way we communicate.”

This approach to communication benefits both the patient and the system. She points to a practical example – clearly communicating discharge instructions to patients when they leave hospital will reduce the number of repeat visits.

A year into the role, Nichols reflects on the experience. 

“I’ve appreciated the welcome that people have provided and the openness to my input. I really feel that they are respecting what I say when I do say it. Of all the volunteer jobs that I’ve done, this is the one I’m getting the most out of.”

Interested in being a patient family advisor? Visit