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Nurse vs. Doctor: How to Deal with a Difficult Doctor

nurse vs doctorby Brook Jillings

The nurse vs. doctor dynamic has been around as long as the nursing profession has existed. 

As a nurse, it can sometimes feel overwhelming when interacting with a doctor who comes across as disrespectful or demanding.  

Better communication between doctors and nurses can improve the professional relationship between both parties and the care offered to shared patients. 

Understanding the Nurse vs. Doctor Dynamic 

Doctors and nurses are both motivated by the same desire to care for their patients. Despite identical goals, there is a pervasive myth that each group does not respect the other.  

"Do not be afraid of them," Rebecca Park, RN and founder of RemediesForMe.com, says of doctors. "They are human beings just like anyone else." 

In fact, much of the difficult doctor image can be chalked up to a lack of communication and understanding between parties.  

[RELATED: Improving the Nurse-Patient Relationship with Difficult Patients]

"Sometimes a doctor might be hard to work with because of a difficult patient issue that day," suggests Chirag Shah, MD, founder of Accesa Labs.  

He suggests offering assistance to build rapport. "Offering a little help can go a long way in improving your relationship with the doctor forever."

6 Ways to Improve Nurse-Doctor Collaboration 

There are several steps you can take to improve your interactions with doctors who seem difficult. 

1. Communicate clearly 

Catherine Burger, RN, BS, MSOL, NEA-BC suggests, "Many negative interactions can be solved simply by the nurse being fully prepared to present information to the physician using a practiced and defined communication style, such as SBAR." 

2. Avoid unnecessary interruptions during rounds 

"If the nurse needs to speak with the MD urgently," says Burger, "then a disruption may be warranted. Otherwise, nurses should try to cluster their questions and needs for their patients when the doctor is rounding." 

3. Speak up when necessary 

"Speak your mind," Park suggests. "If you do not feel comfortable with something that you want to mention, say it! They will respect you more when you speak up."  

This can be difficult to do if you're not a naturally assertive person, but practicing direct communication can improve patient care and make you a better nurse. 

4. Don't tolerate abuse 

"You do not have to take any kind of abuse at work from doctors," says Park, "especially verbal or emotional abuse." Burger suggests following the chain of command to report hostile or disrespectful interactions with doctors. 

5. Try the direct approach 

"Many times, the physician is unaware that their antics or interactions are considered difficult," cautions Burger. She suggests approaching the doctor privately and pointing out the offending behavior respectfully with clear examples. 

6. Interact with them more 

"The more interactions you have with a doctor," begins Park, "the quicker you will build a rapport with them. Once you have a rapport with them, the respect will come."

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