Five Ways to Promote Healthy Nurse–Doctor Relationships


By Jennifer Larson, contributor

Do doctors and nurses always get along? Well, no. But as the roles have evolved over the years, both sides have found that mutual respect and teamwork can go a long way toward overcoming issues, building positive relationships and keeping the focus on the patient.

The new emphasis on teamwork in health care includes an emphasis on interprofessional education, and health care systems have implemented initiatives to encourage interprofessional collaboration through initiatives like TeamSTEPPs (Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety).

Good communication is also recognized as a pillar in any successful team approach. The Joint Commission recommends the standardized communication tool known as the Situation, Background, Assessment and Recommendation (SBAR) technique as a best practice.  Many facilities have implemented the SBAR technique with doctors and nurses to facilitate the communication of clinical information in a clear, concise and accurate way.

Yet training and communication tools may not be enough; when it comes to working relationships, there is always room for improvement.

Start with respect and what you can control

Unfortunately, no one can control the behavior or attitudes of others. Nurses may still encounter a physician (or other health care professional) who does not treat you with the respect you deserve.  But you can control your contribution. Nurses can and should play an active role in fostering good professional relationships with physicians and other colleagues, just as they do with their personal relationships.

Here are five proactive things that nurses, including travel nurses, can do to build good interprofessional relationships:

1. Express your sincere desire to be a team player. This is especially important if you’re new on the job. What you want to convey is the attitude of, “I am here to learn the culture of your organization and how I can best fit in as a team member,” said Judith Caruso, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, president of Caruso Consulting and president of the Rutgers University School of Nursing Alumni Association. “That can take the guard down of some of the other people.”

2. Be confident. You don’t need to be shy about providing important information about your patient and what he or she needs--and speaking up when it matters. It’s also okay to disagree calmly and respectfully with a physician or another person on the job. “Nurses need to ask for what they want,” said Cynthia Thomas, EdD, RNC, CDONA, associate professor at the Ball State University School of Nursing and co-author of the recent book The Nurse's Step-by-Step Guide to Transitioning to the Professional Nurse Role.

3. Look for opportunities to keep channels of communication open. Being a good communicator at the bedside is critical, but you can nurture good relationships with physicians and colleagues in many other ways, too. “A ‘Good morning, and how is your day going?’ can go a long way in establishing a good relationship,” said Constance McIntosh, EdD, MBA, RN, assistant professor at the Ball State University School of Nursing and co-author with Thomas and Jennifer Mensik, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC.

4. Be prepared. Everyone likes working with a colleague who is prepared, knowledgeable and professional. Being prepared also helps you be respectful of physicians’ and other clinicians’ time, which they will definitely appreciate. “I once had a cardiac physician tell me that on a general day he gets about 152 questions a day from RNs,” said McIntosh. “This number did not even include evening or night calls--only questions and decisions during a hospital round. His biggest complaint was when an RN was not prepared.”

5. Keep the shared vision in mind. It’s easy to get distracted in the moment, but it can help to remember that nurses and physicians are all on the same team. And you all have a critically important role to play. Nurses are not subservient to a physician or even to a nurse practitioner, noted Thomas. As a registered nurse, you spend more time with the patient than anyone else, added McIntosh, and you are the one who will notice subtle signs that may change the course of the patient’s care. The team needs everyone playing their role to the best of their abilities. “We’re all in this together,” said Caruso.

Travel nurses can choose where they want to work, and learn from with the best doctors and nurses across the country. Apply today to get started with the nation’s leading nurse staffing agencies.

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