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How to Handle Difficult Nurses while at Clinical

*Original post released 11/11/19

Dealing with nurses at clinicals can be a difficult situation sometimes, especially when you are assigned to a nurse that doesn’t seem to be the most enthused that you’re there. Here are some tips that will hopefully help you get through and make the most of the situation:

  • Don’t come to clinical mentally unprepared! If your program expects you to look up your patient(s) meds/conditions/procedures the night before, DO IT. Know as much as you can about their current state so you’re equipped to help the nurse during your shift.
  • Don’t come to clinical physically unprepared! This means, at a minimum, you should have a stethoscope, penlight, watch, paper/clipboard, pen/pencil, and scissors (helpful). Pack before heading to bed the night or morning before your shift.
  • Set your expectations realistically. Don’t come to clinical not expecting to work hard,be on your feet constantly moving, and make countless mental notes.
  • Always offer to help…even when help is not asked. It shows you’re willing and eager.
  • Students can slow even the best nurse down. You’re learning, and we’ve been there too. However, it can add to the stress of an already hectic shift. Ask them what their needs are and help when/where you can.
  • Always offer to do a task (with the RN’s guidance, of course) so they can observe your skills.
  • Never fake your knowledge or ability because it WILL make you look worse, not to mention doing so has the potential to harm your patient.
  • If they seem doubtful of your abilities, ask if the two of you can have a conversation about the scenario to prove your knowledge, gain insight, and put them at ease about your skill level. This is a great opportunity to ask questions when necessary for clarification.
  • Remember that everyone is going through something no one knows about, so brush it off and be empathetic. It becomes an issue when this situation continues to happen with the same nurse.
  • Always maintain as much of a positive attitude as possible when dealing with a difficult nurse/preceptor. Others will see this and so will your instructor. It also shows potential employers how you might handle a difficult patient, coworker, or situation.
  • Talk to the nurse directly to see if something is wrong. It may be that you’re misinterpreting a possible conflict, you could be doing something differently, etc. Clarification is often a crucial first step in conflict resolution.
  • If you feel as though you’re struggling, ask for advice. Most nurses love to teach and give advice. We tend to love sharing tips we’ve picked up since graduating. Just ask!
  • Lastly, if after trying every possible way to amend the situation by interacting and participating with your nurse, follow the chain of command…STARTING with your clinical instructor. If still not resolved, try speaking with your course manager and so on and so forth up the chain of command until a resolution is found.

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