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.

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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.”