How nurses can earn the respect of difficult doctors


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As a nurse, you may find that respect is a rather elusive entity. And of course, the stereotype of the rude MD berating the nurse is sadly rooted in reality.

You can avoid the cliche and get the respect you deserve by following these two effective steps.

Be Prepared
“I’ve always had a pretty good rapport with physicians who are notorious for being hard to work with,” says Rachel Ballard, RNC-MN, BSN, the CEO of She says that in her experience, doctors want nurses to have common sense, to think quickly and to find the answers if they don’t have them.

Ballard cautions nurses against calling physicians to notify them of changes in a patient’s conditions unless they already have the lab work, vital signs and everything else they can gather about the patient’s status. “I’ve never said to a doctor, ‘I don’t know,’” she adds. “I say, ‘I don’t have that information in front of me, but I will find out right now.’”

She recalls a situation in which a physician started to yell at her, and she advised him that if he wanted her to understand how he wanted something done, he should take the time to explain it to her. “I pulled up a chair and he gave me a 30-minute lesson on liver function,” says Ballard, adding that the physician didn’t criticize her nursing skills again because she understood how he wanted things to be done.

Communicate Effectively, Be Confident, Be Proactive
Engaging in open, honest, effective communication is the key for nurses to gain the respect of doctors, maintains Bob Uslander, MD, a physician who divides his working hours three ways—making house calls to patients, coaching other physicians and working in the emergency room of a San Diego hospital.

“A lot of nurses tend to sit back and let physicians dictate the situation,” says Uslander. “They have the tendency to minimize their importance. They need to stand up and be effective members of the team—because they are important members of the team.”

He says that he has the most respect for nurses who are confident about their nursing skills; who are proactive and offer suggestions rather than just take orders; who are compassionate and respectful of patients; and who are willing to do more than what is asked or expected of them—and that means more for their patients, for the team they work with and for the department or institution they work in. “At the heart of this is the patients’ best interests, so I respect nurses who respect their patients,” adds Uslander.

Cynthia Dusseault
Cynthia Dusseault is a professional freelance writer with both a health and an education background. A former medical radiation technologist and elementary school teacher, she realized that no matter what she did, she was drawn to any task that involved writing, so she decided, over a decade ago, to write full-time. Since then, she has written for a variety of magazines and websites including Nursing PRN, National Review of Medicine, University Affairs, Your Health, Education Leaders Today, Today's Parent, Children's Playmate, and many more. She has written about topics such as asthma, genital herpes, circumcision, teleradiology, body art, learning disabilities and exercise trends, and she absolutely adores the fact that writing—particularly doing the research for the articles she writes—makes her a lifelong learner.

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