1. Hathaway, Lisa RN, MSN

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I don't know about you, but as a young nurse I was very intimidated in some of my first interactions with physicians. I remember forgetting important information and having to call back only to be hung up on or disdained by the person to whom I was reporting. If you've ever experienced this, take heart. You too can become an effective communicator with your fellow team members-physicians.

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Communicating with physicians is a large part of what we do as nurses and as part of the interdisciplinary team. We're the team members who spend the most time with patients at the bedside, with the exception of nurse aides or personal care assistants. Patients often confide in us and tell us things they may not share with their healthcare providers. It's our job to communicate pertinent information to physicians about our patients and changes in their condition. But how do we do this without feeling intimidated? Effective communication is a skill that improves over time, as you get to know what's expected and become more self-assured in your practice. Here are a few tips that have helped me.


We all have our own communication and practice styles. Some physicians prefer tomes of information and some want "just the facts, ma'am." Become familiar with the expectations of the physicians with whom you work and tailor your communication accordingly.

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There are also a variety of ways to communicate in addition to face-to-face interaction. For example, some physicians prefer a telephone call, fax, or e-mail. The Joint Commission has established standards for how and when some communications should take place. And, of course, the facility where you work has policies and procedures you need to follow regarding what constitutes effective communication.


Whether you're communicating face to face, over the telephone, or via e-mail, always be respectful and professional and you can't go wrong. You may find it helpful to briefly organize in your mind what you need to communicate. Writing down important information for your reference is also helpful. Gather as much pertinent information as you can while reporting to a physician, such as the patient's vital signs, assessments you've performed, and applicable lab studies. And if you're asked a question for which you don't have the answer, knowing where to obtain the information is equally as important.


As nurses, we're our patients' advocates. Put simply, being an advocate means "to write or speak in favor of or support." Often, physicians rely on us to give them valuable information that can guide the patient's care. Look at your interactions with members of the healthcare team in this way and you're sure to have success in your communications. After all, we're all on the same team!!


Lisa Hathaway, RN, MSN