nurse talking with senior patient

5 Ways to Connect With Your Patients During Every Shift

Communicating with patients is at the heart of what nurses do each day. It's an important part of learning how to be a competent nurse and meeting patient needs. When you form a strong initial relationship, it makes it easier to bring up difficult topics later, such as when care plans or different treatment options need to be discussed.

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How can you connect with patients every shift? Discover some actionable tips from industry professionals.

1. Listen to what patients say

Nurses may spend time focusing on what to tell their patients about progress and treatment plans, but it's equally important to lend an ear to what your patients say.

Suja Johnkutty, MD, has been a neurologist for 19 years, and one method that works for her is to make sure to let the patient have the last word during a visit or interaction.

"The number one tip I would advise anyone in healthcare is to ask at the end of the conversation, 'What other questions do you have?' I have found that people do have burning questions they were afraid to ask. In most cases, patients feel they have been heard. Mostly, they appreciate being listened to."

2. Build rapport with patients

When you visit with a patient, try and notice the smallest details, such as physical appearance, a new card they may have received from a relative or a favorite show they love to watch. Remembering these things and bringing them up later helps the patient know you care about them as people.

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Make sure to give each patient your full attention, listen carefully and hear their stories.

3. Show empathy

Whenever possible, avoid being judgmental of patients and instead provide them with encouragement. This can be expressed through verbal and non-verbal cues.

For example, when you first enter the room and start reviewing their chart, you can say something like, "Wow you've been through a lot in the last few months." This lets them know you understand the position they're in and that you're there to help them.

4. Maintain strong communication

While nurses tend to be good communicators on the surface, sometimes talking to patients can be much more complex under the surface.

Erin K. Jackson is a Chicago-based healthcare attorney at Jackson LLP, and she notes that one of the things she sees in her practice is a disconnect between patients and providers that arises from poor or missed communication.

"I think it's important to remember that a provider can be a good communicator generally, but that strong patient relationships depend upon the ability to essentially read your audience. Speak to the patient sitting before you — not just to their health concern, but also with a sensitivity to cultural, socioeconomic and demographic attributes that could create a disconnect between what you're saying and what they're hearing."

5. Think of your patients as your loved one

Thinking of patients as your own loved ones can make a big difference in how you care for them. Atif Zafar, MD, author of Why Doctors Need to Be Leaders and Medical Director of the Stroke Program at the University of New Mexico and Division Chief of Stroke Neurology says that some of the things he has learned about connecting with patients he learned from his nurses.

"Some of our patients are bed-ridden after a stroke and cannot even put their blanket on [themselves] if they are feeling cold. I recall one of our nurses was actually brushing her patient's teeth at night in addition to the morning routine of the oral care he got. And the patient's family was there watching it, and the nurse said, 'If I brush mine at night, why can't he?' I loved it. The family loved it.

It can be these small things that make a difference — this was not protocol, this was not a process, but she did it."

When you make an effort to connect with your patients in these or other ways, you can help them feel understood and cared for during a difficult time in their lives.

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