Whether you’re taking care of a patient in a hospital room or in their own home as a nurse, you’re the healthcare professional a patient interacts with the most. A good nurse can make a world of difference in a patient’s life, helping make an often miserable (and frightening!) experience easier to handle.
While you can’t just mend a broken bone or make an illness vanish with the wave of a wand (wouldn’t that be nice!), there are ways you can put your patients’ hearts and minds at ease, and build a stronger rapport with the people counting on you for care.
This is the bread and butter of any nurse looking to build trust with their patient. Ask them questions about their life outside of why they’re here with you. Get them talking about their hobbies, their interests, their friends and family. Most people love talking about themselves — it lets them take their minds off the discomfort and think about happy things, and it also provides an opportunity for you to find common ground.
Maybe you both like the same TV shows and can talk about your favorite characters or moments. Perhaps you have a son or a daughter their age. Maybe you have a pet cat like they do, too.
When a patient and nurse are thinking of each other as people rather than “patient and nurse,” it strengthens the bond of trust.
As a nurse, you’ll very rarely encounter a patient with a problem you’ve never seen before — though it can happen. While no two people react to a torn ACL or a severe flu in the exact same way, veteran nurses will of course see commonalities and patterns. Make sure you prepare for each new patient as best as possible, so that you can answer the questions that you know they’re going to have — and anticipate the problems they’re likely to have, too!
Remember, though, that there’s never any shame in the answer “I don’t know.” If a patient asks a question you’re not sure about, it’s okay to tell them you’ll look into it and get back to them — as long as you actually do. There’s no faster way to undermine someone’s trust in you than telling them something that turns out to not be the case.
Most of your patients won’t have any medical training, so as a nurse, you’ll find yourself having to explain things fairly often. Even when explaining a condition or procedure to someone who doesn’t understand, don’t be condescending. Treat them and their intelligence with respect. You wouldn’t like it if your car mechanic talked down to you about your transmission, right?
It can be tempting to use affectionate pet names (e.g., “sweetie” or “honey”), but try to resist the urge unless your patient is a younger child. Calling your patient by their name makes them feel like you actually care about — and remember — who they are.
As a nurse, you’re committed to your patients’ well-being — and that doesn’t always end when they’re out of your direct care. If you can spare the time in your busy schedule, a follow-up phone call (or email or even text depending on how tech-savvy the patient is) to see how they’re recovering not only makes your patients feel at ease, but it can let you spot any early warning signs for anything that might interfere with their recovery.
This especially holds true for longer-term patients with ongoing issues who may be back in your care before too long. Checking in with them in the meantime is smart, and tells them that you care.
It’s also important that you keep the promises you’ve made to your patients. If you tell them you’ll check up on them in a week, or that you’ll give them a list of resources, make sure you do these things. Broken promises are a surefire way to undermine the rapport you’ve worked so hard to build.
Your patients, to put it mildly, aren’t having a very good time — if they were, they wouldn’t be seeing you! They’re hurt, uncomfortable, and most likely frustrated or even scared. Nursing can be a demanding and exhausting job, but you can’t let your patients see that. Understand what your patients are going through and empathize with them as much as you can, even if it’s at the tail end of a very long shift.
Remember that a little kindness can go a very long way to someone stuck in a hospital bed.