Ask the expert: Checking the emotional pulse of work relationships

Nurse Leader Insider, November 9, 2009

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This week Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, RC, MN, talks about nurse-physician relationships and ways to improve the relationships as well as help improve the quality of care patients receive.

Q: Recently on my unit, I have noticed a strain between nurse-physician relationships. Are there any ways I can strengthen my relationships with physicians and help improve the quality of care patients receive?

A: As with all nursing processes, we must begin by assessing the situation. You have to narrow the focus from a collective to an individual standpoint—after all, poor nurse-physician relationships can only improve when you take ownership of and personal responsibility for your role in the problem.

The first step is to assess the quality of your work relationships. The second step is to assess barriers and individual responses to conflict. By taking the emotional pulse of the relationships on your unit, you will begin to understand why we respond the way we do to negative behavior. With this insight, you will learn to respond differently and to change the existing culture.

Addressing conflict and uniting under a zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior and verbal abuse is paramount. Yet there are many other strategies a staff nurse can adopt as well to foster better communication and collaboration between nurses and physicians.

Understand that the difference in your roles may cause confusion. Reinforce your role in patient care. Use the progress notes to identify concisely the problems you addressed on your shift, the progress made, and the plan of care.

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Editor’s note: Do you have a question for our experts? E-mail your queries to Editorial Assistant Sarah Kearns at and see your name in print next week! In the meantime, head over to our Web site and view a growing collection of advice from our experts.

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