Every career requires efficient communication. However, nursing careers demand more than an ability to run a meeting. Nurses work with patients and are often a resource and advocate for those under their care. They interact with physicians and other nurses, and patient health is on the line.

Nurses need tools to effectively communicate since they directly impact patient care.

Partners in Communication

The quality of nurse communication affects patients, other members of the care team and administration. The importance of this communication requires it to be as effective as possible.

Patient safety and care are dependent on nurses communicating about treatment concerns. As an example, a nurse can use communication to pre-empt a preventable error by a colleague or physician. U.S. News & World Report points out that nurses aren’t accustomed to speaking up due to concerns of creating conflict. Some of this is due to differing power dynamics. However, communication could protect patients.

Patients may require round-the-clock care, which means care occurs in shifts. Handoffs from one caregiver to another allow room for misinterpretation of information or the omission of important data. Having clear instructions and a mindful handoff keep patient care consistent and safe.

Plus, nurses need to be able to communicate with patients. Collecting all relevant information to aid in proper diagnosis and treatment can prevent mistakes and speed recovery. Providing clear care instructions to patients and families improves outcomes.

Methods of Communication

There are three basic methods of communication that the nurse will employ: verbal, nonverbal and written.

Verbal communication is speaking to others. While this may seem fairly straightforward, you must be mindful of tone. The way you talk to people should be professional yet empathetic. Choose your words wisely.

Nonverbal communication refers to your body language and facial expressions. Be aware of your body language. Nurse Choice advises keeping your arms uncrossed and making eye contact. Maintain a pleasant but appropriate expression to show you’re open and ready to listen.

Written communications need to be clear. Write in complete sentences and only use abbreviations and jargon that are well-known and cannot be misinterpreted. Keep in mind that nurse-to-nurse communications often take the form of reports, which may have patient health and legal ramifications.

Nurse Communication Tips

  • Get friendly. When speaking with co-workers or patients, Ausmed suggests indulging in some ice-breaking chitchat on a topic that is not emotionally charged. This gives you the opportunity to connect with co-workers and patients. You want to position yourself as a friendly face who is there to help.
  • Ease their fears. Recognize that people who are responding to you with a great deal of emotion are communicating from a place of fear. You are in a unique position to hear them out and respond with kindness, caring and understanding. That patient’s angry family member is most likely worried more about their loved one’s present health than anything else.
  • Listen carefully. When engaging with patients and peers, listen carefully. Ask questions if you don’t understand or need more information. If a patient says something that sends up a red flag, politely ask them to further explain. Silence is okay as patients overcome their fears to give you relevant details that could assist in their treatment.
  • Speak up and be clear. If you see something, say something. Communicate with respect while putting patient safety first. There can also be issues with bullying or hazing in a medical setting, particularly between seasoned staff and newer people. There is no place for this behavior in a professional environment.
  • Exhibit tech etiquette. You’re likely to have your cell phone on you during shifts. Follow good etiquette by keeping your phone silent and in your pocket. Excuse yourself if you have to take an urgent call. Don’t lose focus on your patients because of tech distractions.
  • Keep patient information clear and concise. Cover key information in your reports and when handing off patients. Make sure the person receiving the patient understands any verbal instructions. Your handwriting should be legible for any written instructions. Double-check what you’ve written or typed to make sure it is clear. Document each time you visit a patient along with all instructions and medications administered.

Everyone can improve their communication skills. With mindfulness and practice, you can improve your communication with patients, peers and administration. Strive to be a better communicator every day and see how it improves patient outcomes and your workplace.

Learn more about the UMFK online RN to BSN program.


U.S. News & World Report: How Communications Issues Between Doctors and Nurses Can Affect Your Health

Nurse Choice: 10 Essential Nurse Communication Skills for Success

Ausmed: Communication Skills