The medical field is mostly a people-oriented profession, and with any people-oriented career, professional etiquette is a necessary part of the job. Whether you’re walking into a facility for the first time or the hundredth, how you interact with other staff and patients is an important skill for a successful shift.
Before you go to your next shift or your first, here are some guidelines to review on professional etiquette for health care professionals.
Health care professionals interact with a variety of people, from fellow nurses to patients to patient families. How you interact with other staff on a professional level can have a big impact on how your shift goes and the impression you leave on a facility. Especially if you’re interested in working there for multiple shifts.
- Introduce yourself. Introducing yourself to other staff not only helps you come across as professional, but it gives the other nurses the opportunity to introduce themselves. You’ll know who to come to for questions and help, and if you plan to return to the same facility in the future, they might better remember you.
- Ask questions. When working for a nursing registry or agency, there will be many times when you are at a shift and don’t know something. Whether it’s where supplies are kept or how to do a procedure you haven’t done since nursing school, ask questions and ask for help. In the health care field, we never stop learning.
- Common courtesy. It might seem grade-school level, but the principles of common courtesy apply at any point in your life. Don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you” during conversations, especially if you’re delegating tasks to another staff member or if they are helping you with a task.
- Remember patient privacy (HIPAA). When you talk to patients or other staff, remember to follow HIPAA guidelines. If you need to ask a specific question about a certain patient to another staff member, do so privately, so other patients or visitors won’t overhear.
- Dress and grooming. No matter how polite or professional you act, a lot of people’s first impressions will be based on how you look. Many times, people will have already formed an opinion about you before you’ve said your first word, so take pride in how you look. Keep your ID badge clearly visible at all times. Iron your clothing if it’s wrinkled. If your hair is long, keep it pulled up so it’s out of the way.
How we as health care professionals act during patient interactions can affect a patient’s treatment and recovery, whether we realize it or not. A polite and respectful bedside manner is necessary for providing quality patient care.
- Introduce yourself. When you first walk into a patient’s room, introduce yourself — your first name, your job title, and information about what you’ll be doing and for how long. Some people prefer giving their first and last names, but some nurses are only comfortable giving their first name. Your job title is a registered nurse, certified nursing assistant, etc. And what you’ll be doing and for how long could be as simple as “passing medications until 10 PM.”
- Explain, but simply. Whenever you interact with a patient to start any sort of care, explain what you’re doing. But remember to avoid using technical terms unless you take the time to explain them. You might have a lot of experience and knowledge of the medical field, but many of our patients don’t. Take the time to explain even if a patient isn’t conscious or has an illness like Alzheimer’s.
- Ask questions. Sometimes, you can pick up on a patient’s individual and cultural needs just by paying attention. But to head off any misunderstandings or problems before they come up, you can simply ask a patient at the first encounter if there is anything particular that they would like you to be aware of. If you’re working in an area where patients may not be able to answer you, ask fellow staff, and double-check the patient’s charts.
- Focus on the patient. Many times during a busy shift, we may try to multitask. Often, that means we talk to patients while we’re on the computer charting or pulling up medications. Take the time to pause what you’re doing and focus on the patient when talking. A lot of communication is in our body language, and it’s difficult to watch body language if you’re looking at a computer screen.
- Body language. Speaking of body language, be aware of your own body language. Keeping your head down and gaze to the floor, or turning your body away from someone can make them feel uncomfortable and make you appear not confident and nervous. So keep your head up and maintain normal eye contact when you talk and listen. You should also avoid making gestures, like the peace sign. Gestures that might be harmless in the US could be offensive to someone from another country or culture.
- Avoid nicknames. In some specialties, it’s not uncommon for some staff to use nicknames like “sweetie” or “dear” when talking to patients. Address patients by their names when you talk to them and avoid using nicknames.
- Make sure things are good before you leave. Before you leave the patient’s room, ask if there is anything else they need. Make sure that any call lights are within reach, and that things look safe and clean.