5 Keys to an Outstanding Nurse-Patient Relationship

John Kelley from Massachusetts General Hospital says a good nurse-patient relationship is comparable to “many well-established medical treatments.”

But there’s a concern that nurses are graduating without developing the soft skills needed for effective care. A study from The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing identified six areas of weaknesses for new graduate nurses entering the workforce, and two of those six are directly related to soft skills: communication and leadership

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So if new graduates are struggling with soft skills, what do nursing students need to learn to form a better nurse-patient relationship? Students must develop soft skills, such as communication and empathy. Here are some ideas for instructors to accomplish this. 

Download our free guide: 18 Tips to Improve the Nurse-Patient Relationship

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Essential Soft Skills

Communication

Communication skills are essential to a strong nurse-patient relationship. A study from the American Nurses Association found a well-established link between team communication, worker morale, and patient safety. 

The takeaway? Better communication equals better outcomes. Here are a few pointers to help students improve communication in everyday nursing tasks. 

Explain Procedures

The more patients understand what’s going on, the less they’ll worry about the unknown. Nursing students can practice explaining procedures by using models, pictures, and analogies. Patients may not understand medical language, so it’s important your students know how to explain procedures. 

Listen

Active listening requires concentration. Help nursing students practice listening by pairing them up and giving them a scenario to role play. Have them take turns being the speaker and the listener. When the scenario is over, have the listener repeat the speaker’s main points. Remind the listener to pay attention to body language, facial expressions, silence, and encouragement. 

Keep Eye Contact

Eye contact helps build trust and a genuine person-to-person connection. Si Quan Ong shared an exercise to improve eye contact: 

Set a timer.

Look at each other’s eyes for 5 seconds. Rest.

Look at each other’s eyes for 10 seconds. Rest.

Look at each other’s eyes for 30 seconds. Rest.

Look at each other’s eyes for 1 minute. Rest.

Carry on for as long as you need. Have students who feel especially uncomfortable start by practicing in the mirror. 

Knowing how to successfully communicate with patients allows nurses to improve overall care. While communication skills may not come naturally, they can be learned. 

nurse-patient relationship

Empathy

Along with communication skills, instilling empathy in nursing students is key. Dr. Mohammadreza Hojat from Thomas Jefferson University gives 10 approaches for enhancing empathy in healthcare. Here are three of Dr. Hojat’s ideas:

Recording Encounters with Patients

Video is a great way to discover opportunities to display empathy. There’s nothing quite like watching yourself to see where improvements can be made. After all, we are our own worst critics.

To prove that this technique works, Dr. Hojat sites a study conducted at Michigan State University School of Medicine. The study concluded that video increased awareness of nurses’ interaction and communication with patients. This awareness led to an increase in empathy, strengthening the nurse-patient relationship.

Aging Games

Role-playing can increase awareness, understanding, and empathy. Dr. Hojat references a simulation game “Into Aging,” developed to role-play problems faced by elderly people. 

The game has three stages: independent, semi-dependent, and dependent living for the elderly. Players lose possessions, such as income or residence, as they move from stage to stage. They may also receive labels that represent different illnesses.

Most players lose everything by the time they reach the dependent station. They may choose a life event card that represents death, taking them out of the game to observe other players. 

Each game should end with a debriefing session for players to reflect and share their experiences. 

Results of the game’s impact from a study done by Nurse Education Today showed significant improvement in student empathy toward older adults. The aging game is also a surefire way to increase understanding of both the healthcare system and the experiences of older adults. 

Hospitalization Experience

People better understand an experience when they’ve gone through something similar.

Dr. Hojat references a study conducted at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical School. The study examined whether students’ empathy for hospitalized patients would increase after going through the experience of being hospitalized.

The staff and nurses weren’t aware of the experiment and students were admitted under an assumed name. The study came to an end when the emergency room physician entered the examination room. 

Although the experiment was brief, students reported that it was helpful, enhancing their understanding of what patients undergo. What better way is there to increase empathy in the nurse-patient relationship?

These are great methods because students must put themselves in their patients’ shoes. They learn to feel with their patients instead of for them, which naturally increases empathy in a huge way.

nurse-patient relationship

Teaching Tools

We’ve laid out essential soft skills for nurses to build the nurse-patient relationship. Now it’s time to explore the tools that will help you prepare your students. 

Try-Out Peer Review

Peer review empowers nurses to learn from other nurses, saving instructors time. It’s also helpful for students who feel more comfortable receiving feedback from a peer, particularly on something as sensitive as communication skills. 

Peer review can be practiced after a simulation, role play, or an assessment. American Nurse Today lists six guidelines for effective peer review based on standards from the American Nurses Association:

  1. A peer is someone of the same rank
  2. Peer review is practice-focused
  3. Feedback is timely, routine, and continually expected
  4. Peer review fosters a continuous learning culture of patient safety and best practice
  5. Feedback is not anonymous
  6. Feedback incorporates the nurse’s developmental stage

With peer review, students can receive one-on-one interaction, obtain criticism from peers, and refine their own skills all at the same time. 

Incorporate Simulation

In addition to peer review, simulation is a great teaching tool. And it isn’t just for technical skills. Students can also develop soft skills to improve the nurse-patient relationship during simulation. 

An instructor may provide a rubric to integrate course concepts, bridging the gap between hands-on training and information learned in the classroom.

After a simulation has ended, a debriefing session should be held. Students can assess their performance, helping them learn from mistakes and develop skills. Check out 4 Surefire Ways to Boost Nursing Simulation for more tips to improve your nursing simulations.

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Use GoReact

Simulation is a great way to help students develop soft skills, but students may only use nursing simulation labs a few times each semester. 

Thankfully there’s an easy solution. GoReact, the #1 video software for skill development, is making simulation simpler and more effective for both instructors and students. With GoReact, students can record themselves performing procedures or interacting with patients with just a smartphone or webcam.

By focusing on soft skills, you don’t need all the fancy simulation equipment necessary to evaluate your students. You just need GoReact to record your students.

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The nurse-patient relationship is sure to improve when using video to capture patient interactions. Help your students cultivate the soft skills they need faster by using the #1 tool for patient communication skills. 

Soft Skills Are Crucial 

If a good nurse-patient relationship is really comparable to treatment, soft skills are crucial. A little bit of empathy, care, and understanding go a long way. 

Download your free guide to improve the nurse-patient relationship and better prepare your students to enter the workforce. By improving soft skills and implementing new teaching tools, you’ll provide your students with the provisions they need to develop an outstanding nurse-patient relationship. 

For more ideas to improve the nurse-patient relationship, read 3 Barriers to Effective Communication in Nursing (And How to Overcome Them).

Sources
Physicians’ Bedside Manner Affects Patients’ Health.” The Daily Briefing.
Vertino. “Effective Interpersonal Communication: A Practical Guide to Improve Your Life.” OJIN.
Ong. “4 Exercises To Up Your Eye Contact Game.” Medium.
Hojat. “Ten Approaches for Enhancing Empathy in Health and Human Services Cultures.” PubMed.
Werner, Schneider. “Teaching Medical Students Interactional Skills — A Research-Based Course in the Doctor-Patient Relationship.” The New England Journal of Medicine.
Jinkins. “‘Into Aging’ A Simulation Game.” Journal of Gerontological Nursing.
Chen, et al. “Impact of the Geriatric Medication Game® on Nursing Students’ Empathy and Attitudes Toward Older Adults.” Nurse Education Today.
Hoffman, Milgrom, Wilkes. Towards More Empathic Medical Students: A Medical Student Hospitalization Experience. PubMed.
Haag-Heitman, George. “Nursing Peer Review: Principles and Practice.” American Nurse Today.
Theisen, Sandau. “Competency of New Graduate Nurses: A Review of Their Weaknesses and Strategies for Success.” The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing.

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