4 Simple Steps to Talk to Physicians

One would think that communicating with physicians would be black and white… that it would be very fluid and easy, and come naturally to a nurse… however that could not be farther from the truth.

I want to give you some practical tips about how to talk to physicians that you can apply in your next clinical.

(Now, when I say “how to talk to physicians,” I mean when communicating about your patients. I don’t mean to insinuate that physicians are this different breed of people that you must speak to in a certain calculated way every time you interact.  This is specifically about when you need to communicate with physicians about patient needs.)


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1.  Identify when you need to speak with the physician

Not every scenario that presents itself requires notifying the MD. You may have various policies, procedures, and protocols that may address your issue without having to contact the physician.  If you’re calling about an abnormal, like vital signs that are out of range or a critically high or low lab value, make sure that this abnormal is accurate first.  Grab a manual blood pressure, or make sure the blood specimen that you sent down to the lab wasn’t hemolyzed or diluted.  Verify that you do indeed need to notify them.

Physicians are quite busy. Keep in mind that whenever you’re calling them, you’re potentially interrupting them in the middle of something. Therefore, save these calls for when you truly need to speak to them.  Do not just call for any and every little need under the sun. Most facilities have various protocols in place to handle some basic needs or concerns.  However, if you need to call them, do what ya gotta do!

2. Be prepared for the call back

Remember, if you page them… they’re going to call you back! You must be ready for this. This includes making sure you have pertinent information near you. Most likely it will you include having a chart open in front of you so that you can answer any questions they may have, or having a fresh set of vitals, or knowing any unit policy regarding any potential orders (like the order set that you use for administering blood products, or what set of orders need to be implemented for getting a central line placed, and so forth).  They may call you back while driving or in OR so they can’t necessarily look up things as they think of them.

I think a lot of people assume that every physician working at every facility knows all of the policies and order sets backwards and forwards. Physicians have a learning curve too! Policies change all the time. They may not be aware of the latest changes or order sets. This is why it’s really helpful for you to be aware of those things, or know where to find them, so when they ask about it you can answer them… and essentially expedite care.

3.  Be confident

It can be hard to be confident when talking to physicians sometimes… it can be a very intimidating situation. I know I was pretty intimidated at the beginning, but the more comfortable I got talking with physicians, the more confident I became. Therefore, I really encourage you to introduce yourself to physicians and kind of breakdown that awkward first meeting communication barrier.  Say hello, shake their hand, and introduce yourself.

It’s also common to feel this pressure to know absolutely everything when talking to a physician – please know that’s not the expectation.  You must be knowledgeable about your patient, but you don’t have to know every little thing.  What you do have to know is how to find the answer. If a physician asks a question I don’t know the answer to, I respond by saying… “You know… I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out and get back to you shortly with it.” That honesty and confidence speaks volumes.

4.  Remember, they’re just people


It’s hard not to get caught up in the omg they’re a doctor mentality, especially when you’re new to the medical field.  At the end of the day, physicians are just people… they are members of the health care team.  Just as we expect them to treat us with respect, we need to treat them with respect. If a physician is speaking to you in a demeaning tone, stand up for yourself… just as you would if anyone else was speaking to you that way. Just because someone is a physician does not mean they can speak to people disrespectfully.

Also, do what you can to build rapport with them. Say hi in the hallway, invite them to the holiday party, ask them if they want to order out lunch with you and the rest of the unit… make them feel like part of the team.  Doing this stuff not only builds rapport, but also builds trust. It feels really wonderful to work with a bunch of physicians that trust you and the work that you do – so do what you can to earn that trust. Take really good care of their patients, be respectful of their time, include them in the team, and say thanks when they help you out.  Most physicians will return the favor.  

I hope you find these tips helpful.  If you’re not sure what kind of situations necessitate notifying a physician, I recommend checking out our awesome resource called NURSING.com. We have courses on med-surg, mental health, EKG’s, cardiac, peds, OB, just to name a few… as well as an NCLEX simulator and NCLEX practice questions.


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