Optimal Nursing Care: Communication is Key


Published: 20 November 2019

No matter the clinical setting, communication lies at the heart of optimal patient care being provided to those who need it most.

Whether it’s nurse-patient communication or crucial collaboration between nurses and other members of the healthcare team, if important information is not conveyed effectively, all is lost.

Nurses and Patients: Communication Matters

Nurses are taught to be educators, and some are more skilled than others in this arena. Information can be conveyed to patients in a rote and robotic manner without regard for patients’ feelings or their families’ concerns, or it can be conveyed with compassion, clarity and a contextual understanding of how a patient and their loved ones might best internalise key information.

While emotional, relational and behavioural intelligence would appear to be central to enabling nurses to be the best possible communicators, these skills are not robustly taught in nursing school (or medical school, for that matter). In fact, nurses’ education is generally woefully deficient regarding these particular sets of skills.

Two nurses talking during a meeting | Image

Patient compliance and understanding can largely be attributed to the quality of education and communication provided by healthcare staff, including nursing professionals. If staff members are ill-prepared for optimal communication, the onus falls on the employer or facility to provide sufficient training - something even administrators and managers also need. Thus, outside consultants with specific expertise can fill the gaps and bring staff up to speed with high-level training. Without these types of interventions, care misses the mark, team cohesion disintegrates and outcomes are less than stellar.

At the same time, individual nurses can and must take responsibility for their communication skills by studying modalities such as motivational interviewing and steeping themselves in the concepts of emotional, relational and behavioural intelligence. Research demonstrates that even empathy can be learned, so the earnest nurse with a desire for successful nurse-patient relationships can up-level their own skills without the intervention of an employer. Most nurses know that communication matters, and many if asked, would likely be willing to improve their knowledge and put it into practice.

Nurses and Colleagues: Communication is Everything

A nurse needs to communicate something important to a surgeon about an erroneous order, but she is paralyzed by fear due to her inability to be assertive with those superior to her in the healthcare hierarchy. She must overcome such a characteristic in order to be effective.

Another nurse needs to be certain that all members of the home health team are on-board with the treatment plan. That team might include physical and occupational therapists, a medical social worker and a home health aide, if not others. In order for the nurse to facilitate team cohesion, he needs to be certain he understands how to communicate with all team members, keeping in mind that some learn through verbal instruction while others might be kinesthetic learners or those who learn best by watching a video or reading a report. The larger the team, the more options for learning and communicating are needed.

Team cohesion and the potential for optimal collaboration may hinge upon communication; there may be no other single factor so central to each member fulfilling their duties as part of a unified whole.

Doctor during a consultation with an older man | Image

Taking Responsibility

Just as orders by a physician or advanced practice nurse can provide clarity if communicated in a clear and concise manner, nurses must take responsibility to develop their own styles and skills of communication, especially when employers and facilities fall down on the job. From CEU courses on assertive communication to seminars in medical improv, there are myriad resources for the nurse who seeks to improve their skills.

Health is by nature a collaborative process. Whether through writing, speaking, providing demonstrations or other means of communication, nurses must diligently seek to improve their skills throughout their careers. Patient care depends on it, as do interprofessional collaboration and relationships between colleagues.

Communication is key, and it’s up to each nurse to hone their skills and lead by example. There are no shortcuts, but successful communication is within reach of anyone desiring to achieve it.


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Keith Carlson View profile
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms---including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram - as well as at www.nursekeith.com and Digital Doorway.