In the early 20th century, nurses were expected to be slaves to the orders of the doctors and to firmly obey those orders without question. They were to be seen and not heard. While enlightened health-care practitioners may not vocalize those sentiments in the 21st century health-care environment, the thoughts are often still just below the surface and can really compromise patient care. It takes communication, both good and bad, to overcome much of the historical animosity that exists between nurses and doctors.
Perception plays a big role in how the communication between doctors and nurses is graded, and patients are the ones giving those grades. When patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings hear the same information from their doctors and nurses, they believe the two communicate well with each other. Patients tend to trust a doctor-nurse team that’s on the same page and says so. On the other hand, patients perceive bad communication between their nurses and doctors when they can’t get a straight answer from either, and especially when they hear conflicting opinions and orders.
Nurses and doctors sometimes don’t communicate effectively, and in fact, may contradict each other. They don’t do it on purpose, but the reality is that too often, they don’t respect each other. Whether a doctor feels her nurse is incompetent or the doctor walks around with a chip on her shoulder due to a superiority complex, the resulting communication is going to be blurred, at best. Conversely, when nurses feel threatened or jealous of the role the doctors play in patient treatment -- believing they, instead, are the true healers -- they don’t have a very positive attitude and thus communicate poorly. Mutual respect among doctors and nurses is vital to useful communication between the two forces.
The results are usually quite apparent when doctors and nurses make efforts to improve communications. When they don’t take the time to stop and listen to each other, celebrate their victories and share their frustrations, the communication breakdown is only going to continue. Patients and the whole health-care team suffer when this happens. Good communications result when doctors and nurses encourage each other and let each other know how much they appreciate the work that each does. Nurses and doctors can learn from each other, and when they acknowledge this, communications improve.
Communication is becoming easier between doctors and nurses as the education of nurses becomes more complete and thorough, according to the National Cancer Institute. Nurses are being trained to take on more and more of the responsibilities of patient care, especially when it comes to getting patients to take active roles in their own treatments. As medical research shows that engaged patients heal faster and more effectively, nurses, who spend much more time with patients than doctors, know what’s going on. As doctors realize the extent of their nursing staff’s education, they are more inclined to communicate honestly and openly with them. At the same time, nurses can more effectively communicate the ongoing issues their patients are experiencing when they’ve been trained more thoroughly.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."