How to Avoid Hospital Hostility: A Nurse’s Perspective

Nurse Doctor Relationships The following guest post is courtesy of Nurse Lauren, a registered nurse and a great writer. Make sure to jump over to Lauren's site and check out her posts...

Whether you are a medical student, a new resident, or an established physician, you know it doesn't take a rocket scientist (or a brain surgeon) to figure out that there seems to be a tinge (if not more) of animosity (on occasion) between the nurses and doctors of essentially every hospital. And yet, hostility really does not have a place in an environment where teamwork is essential to the point that people's lives are depending on it.

Building a healthy working relationship with nurses can be one of the most crucial components of success as a physician, and for new docs or medical students there's no better time to start learning how to build those relationships than right now.

As a current or future doctor you have likely had numerous encounters with nurses in the hospital. You've probably figured out that (like docs) nurses can't necessarily be put in a box. Nurses are not all kind and nurturing, neither are we all catty and controlling. Nurse's personalities vary across the spectrum. However, despite the various personalities that are at play, there are ways to create a positive working environment with (just about) any nurse.

 1. Remember that Respect is a Two Way Street

One mistake that a lot of medical students and docs make is viewing nurses as their inferiors. They may think that nurses are “wanna-be doctors” or treat them as the “the help.”

The truth is, the vast majority of nurses I know do not want to be doctors. In fact, if you ask a nurse why he/she became a nurse the answer will probably not be, "I wanted to help people and med school sounded too hard." More likely you'll hear answers about wanting direct patient care, desiring a fast-paced and nurturing atmosphere, maintaining a good work-life balance, and building a rewarding career.

Although a nurse’s education is not nearly as extensive as an MD’s- we do complete rigorous training to be qualified to do what we do. Additionally, many nurses have been in the healthcare field for much longer than you have. Those years of experience can be extremely valuable to you as a newbie. When you show nurses respect, you will find that they tend treat you the same way. It’s that mutual respect which sets the foundation for a healthy, cohesive working relationship that is essential for positive patient outcomes.



2. Listen to the Nurses

It amazes me the number of physicians that will only read a patient’s chart for updates, but never check in with the patient’s nurse. The nurse is the person who has been with the patient all day and all night; we have a lot of objective and subjective information that can be crucial to their care. Even though this information can be found in the patient’s chart, speaking directly to the nurse provides for more streamlined communication and an assurance that the most important concerns will be addressed.

Of course, nurses on the floor are very busy and no, it’s not always convenient to stop them to get report, however I do encourage you to make it a habit of checking in with the nurses in addition to reading charts. It’s important that you hear nurses out on their concerns and suggestions regarding the patient’s care. Of course, there will be conflicts of opinions and many times you may end up making a decision that contradicts the nurse’s suggestion. That’s ok. Not everyone on the healthcare team will necessarily full-heartedly agree with every decision that is made. The important thing is creating an atmosphere where suggestions and questions are welcome, an atmosphere that promotes synergy, leads to more-informed decision-making and improved patient care.

 3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Another mistake a lot of medical students make is assuming that the nurses don't like them or don't want them around. Perhaps you even feel a little bit intimidated by the nurses. After all, experienced nurses know what they are doing on the floor and are very confident in their work. As a newbie, you may not feel that confident yet.

One thing that a medical student, a new resident, and a nurse have in common is that we all know what it is like to be at the bottom of the healthcare totem pole. We’ve all been there- being new, being nervous, and being unsure of ourselves.

My advice to you, is don’t be ashamed of your position as a newbie. You have already accomplished a lot in your education and career- you can be confident in that fact. And you can know that many nurses on the floor will be more than willing to help you along the journey (provided you can successfully navigate rules 1 and 2). Don’t be afraid to ask questions, you may find a nurse can be one of your greatest resources to you in your professional journey.

Learning to work well on an interprofessional team is just like any other skill you are required to learn, it takes practice and nobody gets it exactly right the first time around. However, I believe that if you begin to develop these positive habits now- showing nurses respect, being open to listening to their feedback, and showing a willingness to learn by asking questions, you will find less of a power struggle and perhaps even make a new friend to help you along your way.