One of the first things that Marion Techentien learned when she began her nursing internship in summer 2020 was how to refer to her patients and their conditions.
Rather than saying she worked with substance abusers or addicts, she learned to say her patients had substance use disorder: the American Psychological Association’s medical term for addiction as of 2013.
Substance use patients “have an actual mental illness,” she said. “It’s a physiological thing going on inside their brains that makes them crave these drugs.”
This may seem like a small change. But as Techentien puts it, “changing the terminology changes how people think about the issue.” Techentien used that lesson as a jumping off point for a larger project she completed this summer with NHRMC’s Community Engagement team to fulfill internship hours for her Master's of Science in Nursing: creating educational materials for nurses to help them understand how to better care for their substance use patients.
Curriculum of Compassion
Techentien began working with NHRMC’s Community Engagement team in July 2020 to complete internship hours for her MSN in nursing management, which she earned from Regis University in December 2020. Techentien had dealt with pain management in her previous work with orthopedic post-surgical care and took a special interest in substance use patients, said Manager of Community Engagement Sarah Arthur, MSW, LCSW.
Before this, “I wasn’t aware of how big the substance use issue was in this area, let alone in the nation,” Techentien said.
During her practicum, Techentien worked with the Code Outreach Safety Team (COST) program, which caters to substance use patients who stay in the hospital for six to eight weeks and require antibiotics to treat their illness. She created educational materials for nursing staff working with patients in this program. Her curriculum helps nurses understand major issues that come up in caring for these patients.
“It goes over why people have substance use issues, how we can practice therapeutic communication techniques, and how we can create boundaries so we’re not so heavily involved emotionally with the patients,” Techentien said.
Techentien also developed education on medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which is an evidence-based intervention for treating opioid use disorder. Hospitals use medications like methadone and buprenorphine (which is what NHRMC uses) to treat patients’ symptoms of withdrawal and cravings and promote long-term recovery.
“We’re giving them a different type of medication that is safe and does not have as high of a potential for abuse,” she said. “Our end goal is to get patients off of this medication, too.”
Techentien hopes the materials help both substance use patients and nurses have a better experience when they interact.
“Nobody wants to be a drug user. But this is the position they’re in, and they’re stuck,” she said. “Family history, alcoholism, trauma -- almost every person with a substance use issue has a story. These people are human, too, and they need help."