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Optimal Nursing Care: Communication is Key


Published: 21 November 2019

Cover image for article: Optimal Nursing Care: Communication is Key

No matter the clinical setting, communication lies at the heart of optimal patient care being provided to those who need it most. Whether it’s nurse-patient communication or crucial collaboration between nurses and other members of the healthcare team, if important information is not conveyed effectively, all is lost.

Nurses and Patients: Communication Matters

Nurses are taught to be educators, and some are more skilled than others in this arena. Information can be conveyed to patients in a rote and robotic manner without regard for patients’ feelings or their families’ concerns, or it can be conveyed with compassion, clarity, and a contextual understanding of how a patient and their loved ones might best internalise key information.

While emotional, relational, and behavioural intelligence would appear to be central to enabling nurses to be the best possible communicators, these skills are not robustly taught in nursing school (or medical school, for that matter). In fact, nurses’ education is generally woefully deficient regarding these particular sets of skills.

Patient compliance and understanding can largely be attributed to the quality of education and communication provided by healthcare staff, including nursing professionals. If staff members are ill-prepared for optimal communication, the onus falls on the employer or facility to provide sufficient training, something even administrators and managers also need. Thus, outside consultants with specific expertise can fill the gaps and bring staff up to speed with high-level training. Without these types of interventions, care misses the mark, team cohesion disintegrates, and outcomes are less than stellar.

At the same time, individual nurses can and must take responsibility for their communication skills by studying modalities such as motivational interviewing and steeping themselves in the concepts of emotional, relational, and behavioural intelligence. Research demonstrates that even empathy can be learned, so the earnest nurse with a desire for successful nurse-patient relationships can up-level his or her own skills without the intervention of an employer. Most nurses know that communication matters, and many, if asked, would likely be willing to improve their knowledge and put it into practice.

Nurses and Colleagues: Communication is Everything

A nurse needs to communicate something important to a surgeon about an erroneous order, but she is paralyzed by fear due to her inability to be assertive with those superior to her in the healthcare hierarchy. She must overcome such a characteristic in order to be effective.

Another nurse needs to be certain that all members of the home health team are on-board with the treatment plan. That team might include physical and occupational therapists, a medical social worker, and a home health aide, if not others. In order for the nurse to facilitate team cohesion, he needs to be certain he understands how to communicate with all team members, keeping in mind that some learn through verbal instruction while others might be kinesthetic learners or those who learn best by watching a video or reading a report. The larger the team, the more options for learning and communicating are needed.

Team cohesion and the potential for optimal collaboration may hinge on communication; there may be no other single factor so central to each member fulfilling their duties as part of a unified whole.

Taking Responsibility

Just as orders by a physician or advanced practice nurse can provide clarity if communicated in a clear and concise manner, nurses must take responsibility to develop their own styles and skills of communication, especially when employers and facilities fall down on the job. From CEU courses on assertive communication to seminars in medical improv, there are myriad resources for the nurse who seeks to improve her skills.

Health is by nature a collaborative process. Whether through writing, speaking, providing demonstrations, or other means of communication, nurses must diligently seek to improve their skills throughout their careers. Patient care depends on it, as do multidisciplinary collaboration and relationships between colleagues.

Communication is key, and it’s up to each nurse to hone their skills and lead by example. There are no shortcuts, but successful communication is within reach of anyone desiring to achieve it.


Portrait of Keith Carlson
Keith Carlson

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms---including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram - as well as at and Digital Doorway. See Educator Profile

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Learner Reviews


59 Total Rating(s)

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Dallas Campbell
06 Dec 2019

Informative and educational.

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Jasmine Wrigglesworth
05 Dec 2019

This really helped reinforce me to be more mindful of patient/family feelings when communicating with them. Something I want to do well, but for now as a new nurse may come across as robotic. That is not the nurse I strive to be

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Margaret Mweemba
26 Nov 2019

Reading the article gave me an opportunity to enhance my skills and helped me to focus again.

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Tammy Atkinson
25 Nov 2019

This is an excellent little article, with succinct strategies and points of thought on the crucial importance of communication in patient care and collaborative practice.

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Nina Kraskov
25 Nov 2019

A great quick article on effective communication.

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Alison Lee
23 Nov 2019

Article was a good concise account of the importance of good communication in nursing practice.

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Linda Mortimer
22 Nov 2019

It is valuable to reflect on the role of education within nursing and scope of practice. This is a soft skill not always suited to all nurses. This article reminds us it is of great value to constantly reflect and self- evaluate your own thinking as effective communication is vital to all areas of clinical practice.

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John Wright
22 Nov 2019

A short well-presented article highlighting a gaping hole in contemporary nursing education. I found it useful in helping me refocus as an educator.

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Eleanor Jansen
22 Nov 2019

Communication is the key to a successful nursing practice and these resource have given me the opportunity to upgrade my skills in this field.