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There is no “15-minute rule” in nursing


Shutterstock | wk1003mikeShutterstock | wk1003mike

Ever heard of the “15-minute rule” within the academic ranks? I first heard of it as a college freshman during an introductory physics class. The professor was late–the class started at 1:00 pm and it was almost 10 minutes past the hour. I overheard a fellow classmate whispering to another classmate, “Five more minutes and we’re outta here!”

Of course, I had to know what they were referring to. They told me that the “cancellation courtesy” time was 15 minutes. If a professor did not show within that time frame, class was cancelled.


Curiously enough, I heard this same urban legend throughout my college years. I cannot confirm or deny its validity, but it sure gave the newbie college students an excuse to ditch class, didn’t it?

So what does this have to do with nursing? I’m wondering if there is a “courtesy” time frame when awaiting a return phone call from a licensed provider who was contacted by pager?

Oh, you know what I’m referring to! You have an urgent (maybe even emergency) matter that needs addressing. You page the provider on call. And you wait for them to call you back…



Now, over the years I’ve heard many theories and contingency plans, but there is no documented standard the last time I checked (although I have heard of tentative protocols before). Some of the most aggressive nurses may wait five minutes if you’re lucky, while the more laid-back, nonchalant nurses have been known to place one page for the entire shift, whether or not they get a call back.

Is there such a thing as waiting too long? Or not waiting long enough?

It also seems to be dependent not only on the information you need to share, but also with whom you need to share it. With some providers you can get immediate calls back. Others claim the pager didn’t work, or that the full number didn’t go through. Walking on eggshells is a kind way to describe this debacle.

Then there is the sticky situation of no return call. What do you do when the situation needs addressing? Do you page them incessantly? Do you call them at home? Do you contact administration?

The reality is, each nurse has his or her own plan of attack. I know we all have our patients’ best interests in mind, and ultimately we will do whatever it takes to address our concerns–even if that means sending out a search party for the provider in question (by the way, that’s a true story!).

This is just another entry to add to the “things they don’t teach you in nursing school” list.

Care to weigh in?

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