Doctor-Nurse Relationship: How to Energize and Engage the Doctor and Nurse Team

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA

Some patients struggle to communicate effectively with their doctors and some doctors and nurses find it difficult to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Historically, the dynamic symbiotic relationship between doctors and nurses has been a little shaky, evidenced by the lack of engagement and respect for one another.

Hospitals are chaotic and stressful.  Working in such an environment can lead to frustration and it can take a toll on the staff.  Instead of a good working relationship (which may never have been fostered to its full potential from the start), doctors and nurses become a fractured team.  As a result, the fractured team will not effectively communicate and patient care may suffer devastating consequences.

In order to avoid a fractured team, doctors and nurses need to work together despite the complexities and chaos of a hospital, and they need to embrace each other’s profession and to engage each other, not diminish or degrade one’s capabilities.

Great doctor-nurse relationships are critical for quality patient care.

Collaboration, clear communication, cooperation, respect, and positive attitudes are the essential ingredients for any relationship.  Shared positive attitude and behavior is what will drive a team to be successful.  Doctors and nurses need to function at an emotionally intelligent level.


In Harvard Business Review Best Practice Blogs, “Make Your Good Team Great,” it highlights strategies to help build a team’s emotional intelligence (EI).  High performing teams result because of group emotional intelligence.

“Building an emotionally intelligent team requires developing emotional competence for the group as a whole. A team, like any social group, is governed by shared attitudinal and behavioral norms, which, though sometimes unspoken, are understood within the group. Teams that enjoy high levels of group EI, Druskat and Wolff say, have established norms that strengthen trust, group identity, and group efficacy. As a result, their members cooperate more fully with one another and collaborate more creatively in furthering the team’s work.”

Doctors and nurses can improve their EI, a predictor of team’s success by:

  1. Appreciate each other’s skill and personality.  Introduce each other, but don’t wait until a patient codes.  There’s no room for formal introductions and exchanging pleasantries at that time.  You’ll be focused only on the patient and task at hand; saving a life.  So, next time doctors and nurses have a few minutes for a face-to-face conversation without life threatening drama; introduce yourselves.  Shake hands, maintain eye contact and be pleasant.  Discuss your patients, round together and engage in dialogue that will help foster a positive working relationship.
  2. Manage emotional issues that can hinder a team’s progress.  A hospital environment can breed frustration and tension, but it’s important to maintain focus and to positively redirect the energy.  Druskat and Wolff suggest humor and playfulness.
  3. Celebrate success, be grateful and express positive emotions.  Be mindful of a job well done.  Recognize doctors and nurses individually and together.  Create a place to showcase doctors and nurses working together.  Delivering quality patient care is a team effort, spotlight both groups together.

Energize and Engage

How do doctors and nurses energize and engage each other?

Harvard Business Review, Best Practice Blog, “How to Energize Colleagues”  describes research conducted by Wayne Baker, Rob Cross at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce), and Andrew Parker (then research associate at the IBM Institute for Knowledge-Based Management in Cambridge, Mass.)  They found that energizing relationships influence and elevates performance, and the more people you energize, the higher your performance rating, and vice versa.

According to the research, energizers do five things very well.

  1. Create a compelling vision by focusing on possibilities rather than current or past problems.
  2. Help others feel fully engaged.
  3. Learn from their colleagues.
  4. They are goal-oriented but flexible about how to get there–they allow progress to occur in unexpected ways.
  5. They speak their mind, maintaining integrity between their words and actions. This influences others’ willingness to believe that the goal is worthy and attainable.

Research further found that, energizing behavior is about letting other people know they matter…you devote your physical presence and undivided attention to that person.

The team, doctors and nurses

Doctors and nurses need to constantly collaborate and communicate despite the frustrations of a hospital.  They need to work together as a team.  They can focus on the possibilities rather than the problems by engaging each other’s strengths and they can learn from one another.  The team can flourish by embracing each other and letting each other know that they simply matter.

Doctors and nurses have different professions; however they share knowledge and they can learn from one another.  Doctors and nurses who collaborate, engage, inspire and appreciate each other in a heartfelt way will not struggle with communication.  Dialogue will flow and a strong doctor-nurse relationship will flourish.  Doctors and nurses can be the energizers, the ones who can influence and elevate performance.   The doctor and nurse team who learn to engage and respect each other will create a positive working environment and perform at an elevated level which can produce quality patient care with exceptional patient outcomes.

Your turn

We would love to hear from you.  Are you an energizer?  Do you engage and work together as a team?

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[Image iStockphoto]

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