nurse leaning over shoulder of senior patient in wheelchair
Profiles and Features March 3, 2021

By Erin Wallace, contributor

How to Develop Stronger Relationships With Your Patients

Connecting with patients is something nurses do every day, and developing a good rapport can help you understand their feelings and may make it easier to communicate with them when difficult topics arise. Whether these patient relationships last for hours, days or years, discover some tips for making them stronger.

Find your next travel nursing assignment at NurseChoice, and put these new tips on developing stronger patient relationships to work.

Have Fun, Meaningful Conversations

Sometimes it's easy to fall back on the usual small talk with patients, such as talking about the weather or what's on TV, but instead, get creative. Some suggestions from Judith Champlin, an RN with more than 45 years of clinical care experience and who currently writes for CompareLifeInsurance.com, include:

  • Commenting favorably on a patient's vitals and accentuating their health
  • Discussing anything BUT the weather; asking instead where the best pizza on the planet is, for example
  • Establishing the role and importance of confidentiality (nurses almost always hear confidential anecdotes that may, in fact affect positive treatment outcomes)
  • Celebrating daily milestones and offering to read the daily news or gossip headlines out loud if they have trouble reading themselves
  • Offering spiritual guidance, such as prayer, if the patient is spiritual
  • Asking for a patient's viewing or reading preferences and telling them you will do your best to communicate them to the rest of the staff

Be The First One To Break The Ice

A nurse and patient are essentially strangers at first. It's unlikely they've ever met before, and yet the nurse is tasked with caring for them to the best of their ability. "Meaningful, sometimes intimate discussions often transpire between a nurse and patient," says Champlin. "The nurse and patient didn't necessarily choose each other. Yet here they are together, not necessarily by personal choice."

This can make it somewhat difficult to break the ice, especially when tricky personal situations arise, such as needing to bathe or having to report on bathroom matters. "Discussion of intimate details, such as bowel movements, that are laced with humor can break the ice immediately if the question is phrased correctly," Champlin points out.

Laura Reyher, MSN, RN, teaches nursing students at West Texas A&M University and incorporates communication skills into her classes.

"In the first encounter with a patient, I often say, 'I was reading your chart (or getting report from the previous shift), and my goodness, you've been through a lot lately.' This starts a dialogue and helps the patient know that I care how their health situation has had a profound effect on their life."

Be Respectful

Reyher reminds nurses that although it might be tempting to call a patient by their first name upon meeting them for the first time as a way to be personable and demonstrate openness and friendliness, it's more respectful to address a patient by their last name.

"You can never go wrong by being respectful. Older adults are unaccustomed to be called by their first name — or worse, a childish term like 'sweetie' or 'honey.' Address them as Mr./Mrs./Ms. until they ask to be called by their first name. Younger patients, on the other hand, may prefer to be called by their first name from the beginning."

Listen To Your Patients

Sometimes, patients just need someone to talk to and someone to listen to them, especially if they don't have a lot of visitors or family to spend time with.

Reyher says, "everyone has a story. Take a few minutes to listen, respond with positive body language and don't interrupt."

If you can, minimize distractions while you're in a patient room. Yes, you're there to start an IV, take vital signs or administer medication, but you can also take a few minutes to listen to what your patient has to say as you're doing these things.

Show Empathy

Showing patients you care about their health and about them as people goes a long way toward making them feel comfortable and helping you develop a stronger nurse/patient relationship.

Teri Dreher, RN, Board Certified Patient Advocate for NShore Patient Advocates, notes that "it's all about the relationship with patients. It should be a warm first greeting. You might touch them or shake their hand when introducing yourself. And above all, empathy and an attitude of caring goes a long way in making a frightened, anxious and suffering patient feel cared for as a person."

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