nurse interview questions - Nursing Interviews Decoded - How Well Do You Work with Others?

Nursing Interviews Decoded – Part 4: How Well Do You Work With Others?

There will be at least a few questions during your nursing job interview that will gauge how well you work with others — not just patients, but patients’ families and friends, other nurses or nursing assistants, doctors, pharmacists, delivery personnel, and so on. 

Jobs in the nursing field don’t exist in a vacuum. Depending on the type of job you get, you’ll need to work with others often.

In the last section, we covered how to answer questions about you as a person. Now we’ll cover how to answer questions to show that you’re a team player and can work professionally with other people in your potential new job.

Working with the Public

As a nursing professional, your experience with the public will come from treating patients and communicating with their families and friends. Some positions might even have you work in the community or work with specific demographics for preventative health care. 

Either way, it’s likely that many of the people you interact with won’t have as much experience or knowledge in the health care field as you. Depending on your job, you could be working with patients who are scared or in a lot of pain. It is necessary for interviewers to know how well you interact with the public (not just other health care professionals). 

How did you handle a difficult patient?

The medical field tends to see people at their lowest points. They’re often scared or angry as a result of their illnesses or treatments. It’s possible that these people have had bad experiences with health care professionals in the past. 

Whatever the case, it’s not uncommon to have, what many people would call, a difficult patient — patients who are rude, aggressive, or refuse to participate at all in their own care. Think of a case when you’ve had to handle someone who was angry or rude to you and how you acted in a way that made the situation better. 

Example: When I used to work at a blood donation center, we used to have donors come in who would get very frustrated when they were deferred during the screening process. Whenever I would defer someone, whether they seemed like they would become angry or not, I would take the time to tell them that I was very sorry. I would explain that we weren’t able to take their blood at this time and tell them why as clearly and as simply as I could.

I found that explaining the situation usually helped people feel a lot less frustrated. Staying calm and sympathetic when someone was understandably frustrated, helped them also stay calm.

How did you handle a difficult family member?

When you’re treating patients, you often include the entire family and support system in the treatment plan. Just like your patients, a patient’s family members are also often under a lot of stress. You’ll want to show the interviewers that when you listened and used problem-solving skills, that you did what was best for the patient. 

Example: When I used to work in an assisted living facility, we had one resident whose daughter was a registered nurse and understandably very particular about how her mother was cared for. If something happened, like medication was a little late one night or they ran out of a particular food at dinner, the daughter would make a complaint with the lead on the shift, even though her mother said she was fine.

I didn’t want to avoid her like some of the other leads, so I made an effort to talk to her first when I saw her, even if she didn’t have a complaint. If she did have a complaint, I would find out what went wrong, apologize, and ask if she had any ideas to prevent the issue from happening again or what she would like us to do if it did happen because of issues beyond our control.

She started seeking me out first if there were any problems and was very polite and understanding. 

Working with Other Health Care Professionals

Health care workers don’t work alone in treating patients. Even if you’re the only one on the floor at the time or the one the patient sees the most often, there’s still a team of health care professionals working together to get a patient the care they need. A good nurse can work well alone, as well as in a team, regardless of the job.

Do you consider yourself a team player?

Health care work is team-oriented, so interviewers want to know if you can work in a team when needed. A good team player has several attributes, and when you think of an example, think of a time that showed you practicing one or several of these skills:

  • You took the initiative and went above and beyond.
  • You communicated with other team members quickly and clearly.
  • You knew when to ask for help.
  • You listened to constructive criticism from other team members.
  • You delegated tasks successfully and efficiently. 
  • You perform tasks delegated to you.
  • You identified a problem or needs and worked with other team members on a solution.
  • You followed the chain of command and escalated appropriately, if needed.

Don’t feel limited to just these examples. You likely have experience working as part of a team in either another job, at school, or even in the community. 

What would you do if a coworker wasn’t practicing safe practices?

Sometimes an interviewer won’t ask you directly if you’re a team player. An interviewer will give you a scenario and ask how you would respond. There are a few reasons why they might take this approach instead of something more direct. Knowing some of the reasons can help you think through how to respond:

  • They want to test your problem-solving skills with a situation you might encounter on the job. 
  • They’ve had problems with it on their unit in the past, and they don’t want a repeat. 
  • They want to see if you’re willing to risk conflict to make sure that you, your coworkers, your patients, and the company are protected.
  • They’re curious to see when you think it’s appropriate and necessary to talk to a supervisor.
  • They want to see if you’re willing to talk to supervisors to find solutions to problems.

Example: First, I would talk to the coworker. What I say will depend on how well I know and get along with them. If what they’re doing isn’t safe I will step in immediately to protect a patient or the coworker. If possible, I’ll wait to talk to them in private.

I’d let them know that I was worried about patient safety or their safety, because of what they were doing. I’d take the time to remind them of best practices, and offer to help if they want or need it. If the issue keeps happening I’d try to talk to them again, but if it’s a severe issue that keeps happening, I’d let the supervisor know immediately.

How do you handle conflict with other health care professionals?

You won’t get along with everyone, and employers don’t expect all their employees to get along 100 percent of the time. Employers do expect their employees to handle disagreements or conflicts of personality among one another professionally.

Example: I once had a coworker whose personality and communication style was very different from mine. We had a lot of misunderstandings that eventually led to us having a disagreement at the end of a shift. 

The next day, we had a one-on-one talk in a private room on the floor. She explained her frustrations with stuff I’d done that she had perceived as rude, and I explained my reasoning and what I was thinking during those situations. We discovered that we just have conflicting communication styles and talked about our expectations for one another going forward. 

Nursing is a very people-oriented profession, so it makes sense that interviewers will want to spend some time getting to know you as a person and how you interact with other people. With this section, we’ve finished covering those types of questions. In the next section, we’ll talk more about answering questions about your skills and the job itself.

Although all these questions might seem overwhelming, don’t stress out too much. Just remember the basics of preparing for a nursing job interview and the strategies on how to answer questions in general.