4 Tips for Building Relationships with Nurses


Learning how to connect with the men and women who serve on the front lines of a loved one's medical battles is an important skill for caregivers to have.

When a loved one is hospitalized or moves to a long-term care facility, their overall treatment plan may be supervised by a doctor, but the bulk of your day-to-day interactions will be with nurses and nursing aides. They are the critical liaisons that facilitate communication between patients, caregivers and doctors.

Not only do nurses provide vital medical services for a senior, they are also a caregiver's primary source of information about everything, from changes in a loved one’s condition to the inner workings of the facility.

It is crucial to develop the skills needed to effectively communicate with medical professionals on your care team. This can be a challenge, though, since nurses are managing care for many patients at once and are under tremendous pressure to perform their duties with both speed and precision. Sometimes, pleasantries can fall by the wayside very quickly. The following story and tips will provide some inspiration for showing individuals in the nursing profession that you appreciate their hard work and dedication.

Befriending “Big Linda”

Dealing with a bad-tempered nurse inspired one of the sections in Jane Heller's new book for caregivers, “You'd Better Not Die or I'll Kill You.” Heller first met “Big Linda,” while she was visiting her husband, Michael, who had been hospitalized due to complications from Crohn's disease. Big Linda was Michael's main nurse during this particular hospital stay.

While she was efficient and effective in attending to Michael's medical needs, Big Linda was brisk and business-like. When Heller tried to engage in friendly chit-chat with Linda, she received only one-word responses.

“She just seemed unhappy, so I made it my mission to make her smile,” says Heller.

So, how did she win over Big Linda? She got the idea from a friend who, every year during the holidays, bakes and distributes homemade cakes to anyone who has provided her with a service over the past year. Heller decided the best way to befriend Big Linda was to bake her a chocolate cake.

The nurse's response to the tasty treat was a stony expression and a curt question, “Does it have nuts?”

Upon receiving assurance that the cake was nut-free, Big Linda left the room without another word. Heller and her husband were stunned.

She returned a few minutes later, bearing a throne-like chair to replace the hospital-issued hardback that Heller had been spending the majority of her time in. It turned out that Big Linda was human after all.

4 Tips for Building Relationships with Nurses

To get a better sense of the do's and don'ts of interacting with nurses, Heller interviewed Kelli Jackson, RN, who works in the Critical Care Unit at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California.

Their conversation generated the following tips for caregivers seeking to stay in the good graces of a loved one's care team:

  1. Show Your Appreciation
    Everyone loves getting a pat on the back, and nurses are no exception. It turns out that Heller's approach can be an effective way to win over doctors and nurses alike. Sweet treats can go a long way towards brightening practically anyone's day. If you don't feel confident unleashing your inner chef, store-bought goodies or a hand-written thank you note are excellent alternatives for showing how much you value their efforts.
  2. Go Home
    This tip is as much for the benefit of your loved one as it is for their nurse. Heller advises, “Patients need their quiet time to rest and heal. Your loved one (and their nurse) wants you to go home and not sit in the hospital all day.” Of course, an exception to this tip applies if your loved one has dementia or another condition that makes it difficult or impossible for them to interact with staff independently.
  3. Don't Expect Them to Read Minds
    If your loved one is capable of doing so, encourage them to communicate with the medical staff directly. Nurses aren't mind readers—they can't always tell when a patient needs something. They generally prefer to hear requests from a patient directly instead of a caregiver. However, if your loved one has voiced a need that has not been met, then it is perfectly acceptable for you to step in and inquire about it. Good communication between patients and nurses is essential for successful outcomes.
  4. Respect All a Nurse Has to Offer
    Nurses have a vast amount of experience. In addition to technical skills, they are able to offer information, education, advocacy, and comfort. Because they provide so much hands-on care, many nurses develop a rapport with seniors and their families. Furthermore, studies indicate that nurses can provide essential emotional support for caregivers and their loved ones, particularly when dealing with chronic or terminal ailments. Jackson says she enjoys the emotional component of her job. “It is a trying time when someone you care about is sick, so I try to anticipate what the family needs,” she says. “I feel I can bring so much understanding to my patients and their family members.”
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I have a lot of respect for good nurses and good aides and all good health care providers but regarding bringing "goodies" for staff, you can call me Scrooge but this troubles me. First of all, many caregivers are stressed timewise and financialwise. So maybe they would love to do this but do they now have to feel that in order to ensure quality care for their loved ones they have to add this to their tasks? Second, these are professionals, or supposed to be, they should be doing their job, regardless of who the patient is or whether family is rewarding them. And the time they spend chit chatting with you or spending extra time with your loved one, some other patient is not getting their attention. Don't think I don't reward good workers. I do but after they have done the work and without any expectations for better care. I always give aides at home birthday and holiday gifts. In hospitals, I write commendation letters or note them in surveys. In rehab, as my family member is checking out, I give gift cards to local food stores or restaurants to those who gave good care without knowing they would be rewarded.
This is not to knock anyone who does bring in treats, etc for staff b/c I understand, yes can be effective for your loved one's care.
About the Go Home advice: Nope, no way, not happening ... IF the patient has dementia. Most hospitals are woefully ignorant of the special needs of patients with dementia. Some nurses have some experience, but not necessarily good experience that had good results. All do the best they can. Until that is remedied, I would not consider leaving a loved one with dementia alone in a hospital. This is NOT a criticism of nursing. It is a criticism of training and staffing volumes. My husband had mostly competent and delightful nurses during his various stays, and they mostly seemed pleased to have family on hand to keep him calm, help him remember where he was, and understand what was happening. Hospitals are NOT designed to be friendly places for those with dementia. Not the nurses fault, of course.
When I go to my mom's every 90 days or so, care plan meeting, I take something for the staff on my mom's floor to share (cupcakes from Sam's, couple of boxes of fruit bought from a roadside vendor, etc) AND a small version of that for the DON (director of nurses who is the god or goddess of the NH). Nothing pays off like this sort of investment as the staff remember you or your name and your parent in a positive light.