5 Things New Professional Nurses Should Never Say to a Patient

By: Renee Thompson

New nurses tend to be very myopic during their first year as a professional nurse. What do I have to do? What do I have to learn? How am I going to get through this shift? This is a normal part of being new, especially in a profession that involves life and death! However, sometimes patients can become casualties in the process. We don’t always realize that what we say makes a huge difference to patients and their families, sometimes leading to a lack of confidence in us as healthcare professionals.

Here are 5 things you should never say to a patient or family member:

  1. “We are really short-staffed.” When you tell a patient you’re really short-staffed, they worry that you won’t be able to take care of them, especially in a crisis. Even if it were true, patients need to trust that you will meet their needs—not worry that you are not capable.
  2. “I have never done this before.” If you are asked to do something you’ve never done before, you need to thoroughly prepare before you walk into your patient’s room. This might include reviewing the policy or bringing a more experienced nurse into the room with you. But please make sure you are not verbalizing your insecurity to your patient. The last thing you want to do is to scare them into thinking that patient care will be poor.
  3. “I don’t know. That’s what the doctor wrote.” Ugh. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. As a nurse, it is your responsibility to understand the plan of care for your patient—including what the doctor wrote. However, if your patient asks you a question about their care and you’ve been too busy to review the chart or discuss with the physician, tell them you’ll find out and get back to them. Don’t punt it to the doctor. It undermines our value.
  4.  “I’m not sure why you’re on this medication.” Not only is this bad to say, but you should never ever give a medication to a patient unless you know why they are on it, anything you have to assess before giving it, and what you expect as an outcome. This is both an issue of professionalism in nursing and patient safety. You have to know.
  5.  “They don’t treat nurses well here.” When you are at work, you are representing your organization—the good, the bad and the ugly. Your patients see you as an extension of the hospital and when you badmouth them, you are bad mouthing yourself and everyone else that works there. Although you may have legitimate complaints, sharing them with your patient is unprofessional. Just don’t do it.


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