A Return Trip to the Emergency Department Illustrates Why “Words Matter”


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Susan Meighan, MSN, RN

Almost a year ago, South Shore Health teamed up with the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center to launch a new educational program called “Words Matter.” The goal of this program was to eliminate the use of language that stigmatizes patients with Substance Use Disorder (SUD), and is part of our larger efforts with the Grayken Center for Treatment at South Shore Health.

As nurses, we were called upon to be models for others in using this destigmatized language, especially when interacting with patients. Over time, the language used by the “Words Matter” campaign became second nature to us and allowed patients with SUD to receive care in a caring, compassionate environment.

Recently, I was privileged to see first-hand just how important words can be.

During a recent afternoon shift in the Emergency Department at South Shore Hospital, the Team Leader on duty approached me and asked me to speak to two patients who were waiting in the lobby.

In the lobby, I encountered two young people who identified themselves as former patients of our Emergency Department. They came to the Emergency Department to apologize for the way they behaved during their time as patients.

Both patients expressed remorse for yelling loudly at staff members and for treating the staff members poorly. They stressed that they were learning about the importance of being accountable for their actions and wanted to know if there was anything they could do to help.

As we continued talking, I learned a little bit more about the visitors. Each had struggled with SUD in the past. However, both of them had made the choice to seek treatment, and both were in the early days of sobriety.

They spoke very highly of the care they received in our Emergency Department in spite of their behavior. That care now served as a reminder of where things stood before they began their journey toward recovery.

While listening to their story, I couldn’t help but wonder if that journey might have been different if they had received the stigmatized care often given to those struggling with SUD. Would they have chosen to get help, or would they have gone in a different direction?

Instead, sometime after receiving care in our Emergency Department, the two patients chose to make a positive change in their lives.

They were both proud of what they had accomplished and they both had a newfound sense of self-awareness that was amazing to see.

As I said goodbye, I told them how brave I thought they were and how proud I was to see their success. I also committed to sharing their comments with the rest of the staff.

This is why we come to work every day. It’s so rewarding to see a patient return after an illness, and to see that patient moving forward with his or her life thanks in part to the care we provided. In this case, the compassionate care provided by our team left a mark on each patient.

It can also serve as a reminder to each of us: Words Matter.


Susan Meighan, MSN, RN is a Nurse Manager in the Emergency Department at South Shore Hospital. Learn more about the Grayken Center for Treatment at South Shore Health.