New nurse graduates have a lot on their plate. With diploma in hand, they can barely shout a celebratory “woo hoo” before passing the NCLEX becomes the next focus. But this early time in your nursing career is an especially important time to begin laying the foundation of the kind of nurse you want to be.

Nursing students often say connecting with patients is what makes their long days worthwhile. No matter what population you will be working with, finding a way to bridge the gap and connect with patients makes your job easier and builds confidence and satisfaction for your patients.

Here are a few ways to start building relationships—whether they last for hours or years—it makes a difference.

1. Introduce Yourself

Your patients have medical professionals coming in and out of their rooms all day long. Don’t take it personally if they don’t remember your name or when you first came in or even what you need to do. Tell them your name and what you will be doing. Let them know how long you’ll be taking care of them.

2. Be Present

With all the hectic happenings in a healthcare setting, nurses have to have eyes and ears open to everything. Sometimes that means when you are with a patient, you aren’t 100 percent focused on them. Making the effort to bring your attention to the patient in front of you helps. “Be present in the moment,” advises Pamela Chally, Dean Emeritus, Brooks College of Health, University of North Florida. “Even something nonverbal does a lot for being present. It can be a touch or eye contact,” she says.

3. Keep Them Updated

Let your patients know what to expect. If you know they’ll have a CAT scan later in the day, let them know the approximate time. If that time changes, pass that information along. They might have questions about what’s going on and why they need certain tests or procedures. Let them know or, if you don’t know all the details, find out for them.

4. Spend Some Time

This is the most difficult piece because time is one thing nurses don’t have to spare. But making the most of your time with a patient can help overcome the quantity of the time you can offer. You can’t sit in the room and chat the afternoon away, but you can ask them about their outside life. Talk about the latest baseball game, their scrapbooking habit, or what they like about their job.

5. Learn About Them

If they have family in the room, try to learn a little about them and about your patient as well. Be mindful if a family doesn’t want to talk, but also listen for small details that aren’t volatile. Hobbies, favorite places, favorite foods, or upcoming events they are looking forward to are all great ways to connect and will help break the ice.

6. Have Patience

In addition to their professional skill and their calm demeanor, nurses’ patience is legendary. But having patience isn’t always easy, and when you have patients who are scared, in pain, or just not particularly pleasant, it can be downright difficult. Watch the nurses around you to see what coping techniques they have developed to deal when tempers flare in your setting. Do they deflect with questions? Do they ignore the situation and continue on calmly or do they address it directly? What does your manager recommend when you encounter a situation that’s not easy? And find your own way of bringing yourself back to a calm place when things get tough.

7. Make It Personal

With so many people to care for, it’s not going to be easy to remember small details about everyone. But if you can remember your patient is especially nervous about blood draws, has very particular food preferences or issues, or is more modest than most (or not!), you can be prepared for those situations. Showing that you care about them as a person will help build a mutual trust.

Building relationships with patients, no matter what setting you see them in, has a ripple effect. You’ll make their stay or visit more pleasant, but you’ll also feel more satisfaction from having connected with them, too. And if your patient trusts you and feels like you are advocating for their interests, they are more likely to listen to what you say and ask questions when they don’t understand something.

Building a relationship with a patient can lead them on a path to better health overall and a better quality of life—what nurse doesn’t want that?

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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