When you start off as a doctor you depend on the nurses. Oh man, some of them saved my butt several times, I can tell you. There were times when they suggested adequate therapies when I had no clue what to do next. It depends almost entirely on you, whether they help you out or make your life a living hell.
Here is what I learned during my first years in residency. More.
Ackowledge the nurses are your No. 1 allies.
When I started my career, I thought: When a nurse calls you, they’ve got more work for you to do. But this view of course is very shortsighted, here is why:
A proactive nurse bringing a problem to my attention early saves me a lot of work in the long run.
Of course I like to sleep at night, but a nurse calling at 3 am stating that a patient has shortness of breath is better than calling me at 7:30 am stating that a patient has no pulse.
Listen to them.
When they say: “You gotta have a look at this patient once again”, or “Please talk to this relative.” Do it! Most of the time you can always play the “I’m-busy-with-way-more-important-stuff-so-don’t-bother-me-Card” an probably get away with it.
But you’ll learn soon, that when you do them a favour from time to time, they’ll pay you back. And if not, you did a good thing anyway.
Keep your promises.
If you promise to do something: do it. Not keeping your promise is the number one reason to lose a nurse’s respect. He or she feels disrespected, and that is something they do not forget easily.Even if an emergency comes in between, there are things you can do.
You can call them and say, you won’t be able to make it and have them report you if the situation deteriorates.
Explain your decisions.
Sometimes your decisions will differ from the advice an experienced nurse gave you. That’s OK, you are the doctor. It is your responsibility and you have to take full accountability at the end.
But explain it to her in a humble way, why you made this decision.
Don’t ever claim work they did as work you did.
Once I told my attending about a patient requiring another emergency dialysis: I told him “I dialysed him yesterday.” The head nurse looked at me and said: “I hate that: you didn’t dialyse him, we did!” She was so right…
Express empathy that they have a tough job.
In general, I’m no friend of complaining about how hard our job is. But I think nurses really have a tough job, and they don’t get enough credit for it. Acknowledging this from time to time, is a great motivator.
Be humble and treat the nurses with respect.
No arrogant doctor was ever liked by nurses, at least not for long. Have a chat from time to time. Work is way more fun if you have friends at work.
Don’t use exclamation marks in your orders!
My first attending taught me that. “You gotta save at least one patient before you do that.” she said. To pull this off, you gotta be one of the most respected doctors in the building.
If they have a personal medical problem, take care of it.
Any nurse coming to you asking for medical advice deeply respects you. That doesn’t mean that you have to be her doctor from now on, but you should (a) listen and (b) make sure she has a good doctor. Refer to my blogpost “The 5 Golden Rules of Giving Medical Advice to Friends and Family” for further information on that topic.
Don’t steal coffee.
Brew some coffee from time to time and ask whether there is a monthly coffee fee on the ward. You don’t wanna be the rich doctor who never pays for coffee. Many times they’ll say “don’t worry about it”, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I really gotta work on this one…really hope no nurse reads this 😉