Nursing Tips: How To Build Rapport With Your Patients
Image credit: National Cancer Institute, 2007
By Beth Boynton, RN, MS
Nurses learn about therapeutic communication and relationships in nursing school, but in the fast-paced, real world of nursing, some things fall through the cracks.
Making positive connections with your patients is worth your time. The benefits for the patient experience and safer care are huge, and you’ll probably feel better about your work, too! Here are five great ways to establish rapport with your patients.
Introducing who you are and your role on the clinical team is important for building a positive nurse-patient relationship. It shows your patient that you want them to know exactly who you are and what you’ll be doing to care for them.
Unless your patient is asleep and you don’t want to wake them up, introduce yourself in a simple way. For example: "Hi, Mr. Smith. My name is Beth Boynton and I’ll be your nurse for the next eight hours. What name do you like to be called?"
Remember, nurses naturally touch patients and do things in their personal space. We do things 'to them', and this can feel like an invasion of privacy. Can you imagine how it might feel for someone to come into your room and start checking your blood pressure without knowing who they are and what their job is?
Listening means assessing and understanding
Most of us are experts at listening to a patient’s lung and bowel sounds, as well as their answers to our questions about symptoms. But we don’t always listen in a way that builds our understanding of where our patients are coming from or what’s truly on their minds.
At some point during patient care -- and the sooner the better -- put down your pen or computer and just listen.
Validate fears, desires, or other concerns
When you validate what your patient says, you’re telling them that you hear and understand their concerns, but you’re not telling them what you think they should do about it.
A classic example comes from working with patients with dementia who frequently say things like, "I want to go home!" Responding with "This is your home" or "You can’t go home" or "Have some ice cream" are all invalidating.
Instead, say things like, "You seem sad that you’re not home" or "Going home is really important to you, isn’t it?" By doing this, you’re showing them that you respect how they feel, even if you can’t help them in the way they’d like.
By validating your patient’s feelings, you open the door to learning more about their feelings and experience, and this can improve care.
Do what you say you’re going to do
We all know that waiting is stressful, especially when you feel vulnerable. Be honest with your patients about when you’ll be back with pain medicine or to provide anything else they’ve asked for. If a patient can’t wait (for example urgent toileting that requires a two-person transfer), let your supervisor know that you need help right away.
Never be defensive with patients about why you aren’t more available, and definitely don’t complain about staffing issues to them. Your concerns are real, but you should share them with your supervisor, not your patients.
Learn about life outside the hospital
Nurses are lucky to meet people from every walk of life. Ask your patients what they do in their regular lives, what their interests are, and where they’re from. This shows your patients that they’re more to you than just the gallbladder in room 222 or the new diabetic in 14B.
Take a little extra time to connect with your patients in positive ways and build trusting relationships. Patients will feel cared for and be more honest and open with you.
When you practice nursing in this way, you won’t be just another nurse. Instead, you’ll be a nurse they’ll be grateful to for showing that you actually care about them as human beings.
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Next Up: How To Deal With Difficult Patients
Beth Boynton, RN, MS specializes in communication, collaboration, and workplace culture. She is a Medical Improv Practitioner and author of Confident Voices (CreateSpace 2009) and Successful Nurse Communication (F.A. Davis 2015).