As a new nurse or nursing student it can be nerve-wracking when communicating with a doctor. Many times it is because you don’t know how to ask for something for a patient. This can be because you’re new to the profession. Your gut tells you something is wrong with the patient, but you don’t know what it is and what to ask for.
Another thing is that you find your mind goes blank when asked questions about your patient or you’re not prepared for the questions. This causes you to stumble over your words, which makes you frustrated and signals to the doctor you’re not too sure about what you’re talking about.
So, it’s important you know how to communicate with doctors to help provide the best care to your patient and get their needs met.
Tip 1: Practice! Practice! Practice!
Don’t let the first time you talk to a doctor about a patient be when you’re out of orientation on your own. As a nursing student, you want to practice communicating with doctors on a regular basis and to not leave this task up to your preceptor.
So speak up and ask your preceptor if you can be the one who calls the doctor about your patient or to speak to them when they make rounds. Also, make sure you observe how your preceptor communicates with a doctor. Take notes in how your preceptor approaches a physician and how they deal with questions.
The best way to ease your fear when communicating with a doctor is to just jump in and do it. Remember your preceptor will be there to help you if don’t know the answer to their questions etc. So, if you’re still in nursing school make communicating with doctors a priority.
Tip 2: Be prepared!
Before calling a doctor about a patient or speaking to them during rounds, write down important information about the patient. Remember you will have more than one patient and you don’t want to get them confused.
Write down the following information on your report sheet before calling or speaking to a physician:
- Patient’s name and room number
- Why you’re calling
- Health history
- Basic labs (cbc, pt/inr, bmp, bun, creatinine, troponins, d-dimer….anything abnormal)
- Recent vital signs
- Heart rhythm (if known)
- Medications (especially if you are asking about a specific system…for example the cardiac system: say your patient’s heart rate is running in the 130s, the doctor is probably going to ask you what medications the patient is taking? beta blockers?….you need to know this)
- Allergies (you don’t want to receive an order for something the patient is allergic to and have to call back the doctor and explain that you forgot the patient was allergic to the mediation they just prescribed)
These are basic things you want to know because if the doctor asks you about them and your say “I don’t know” they may get aggravated, which leads me to my next tip.
Tip 3: Know who you are dealing with!
Doctors are just like every other co-worker. They each have different quirks about them. Some doctors can be friendly, patient, and provide explanations to your questions. While others can be rude, impatient, and quick to cut you off while talking.
So, being a new nurse or nursing student you will probably not know which doctors are “harder” to talk to. Therefore, you want to ask other nurses how they communicate with certain physicians, and overtime you will learn how to handle the quirks of each doctor.
Now remember when you are a nursing student or new nurse you will at some point come across a rather rude doctor. My suggestion is that you just shrug it off and keep going. Remember not only can doctors be rude to you but other members of the nursing staff can as well. Don’t let it affect you because REMEMBER you’re there for the patient and to be their voice.
Tip 4: Be confident, stand your ground, but be respectful!
Don’t be scared or timid when speaking to a doctor. Avoid staring at the ground while talking to them or speaking in a low tone voice. You want to show you are confident as a nurse who knows what they are doing because many times they can sense when you’re nervous, and if they are one of the “rude” doctors they may try to push you around and test you.
So, be confident and if you need something for a patient don’t beat around the bush, but ask for it respectfully and with tact. For example, say that your patient is having shortness of breath and is wheezing. You think they would benefit from a breathing treatment. Therefore, call the doctor and explain the patient’s situation and say “I think the patient may benefit from a breathing treatment”. This signals to the doctor that you want a breathing treatment for the patient, but it doesn’t come off as you are trying to tell them what to do. In other words, if the doctor agrees with you he/she will order a treatment.
Now say that you just received an order for a patient that just doesn’t seem right. Your nursing intuition tells you something isn’t right about the order. I’ve had this happen before: I had a patient who was not eating or taking their medications….they were VERY sick. The physician, who was filling in during the weekend, ordered a nasogastric tube insertion on the patient. However, the patient’s recent platelet count was CRITCALLY LOW.
Therefore, I called the physician and said, “I see you ordered an NG tube insertion on my patient. I just wanted to confirm the order and let you know that the patient’s recent platelet count was extremely low. Do you want me to still proceed with the order?”
Of course, the physician cancelled the order and said he wasn’t aware of the platelets. Therefore, if you have to ever question an order do it will tact and don’t come across as condescending to the doctor. We all make mistakes…..we’re human!
Tip 5: Build rapport with your physicians!
This can go a long way. It is important you take time to be nice to the rounding physicians and residents. Always try to smile and ask how they are doing…….just like how you would with a fellow nurse working the floor with you. Even try and shock the grumpy doctors and say hello to them on a daily basis. You may start to see they soften up over time. Avoid ignoring them when they come to the floor to see your patient. If you take time to build rapport with the doctors, you will notice they are easier to talk to and are quicker to response to your needs.
More tips for new nurses and nursing students.