Professional Communication

Effective, professional communication is the cornerstone to efficient, quality health care. Truly, good communication is essential in any arena, whether personal, educational, or professional! Communicating can also make a nursing student or a new nurse VERY nervous, whether receiving or delivering information. Read these general tips to work on your communication A-game!

nurse and patient

Face to Face

Whether in person or over video, communicating face-to-face is challenging and wonderful. Your body, face, tone, and words convey volumes of information. Invoke all that you have learned about therapeutic communication!
  • This is the ONLY form of guaranteed immediate communication. All other modes can be ignored, lost, or seriously delayed.
  • Use direct eye contact, a friendly or neutral facial expression, a calm tone (non-verbal communication), and choose words carefully (verbal communication).
  • Avoid interrupting another conversation or task whenever possible.
  • Use active listening to clarify points on both sides of the communication.
  • When communicating about professional needs be direct and communicate essential information first.

Email Messages

Email communication can be tricky. Think of an email as a formal letter that you might have sent by snail mail.
  • Expect a reply within 72 hours. Email is for non-urgent issues only.
  • Avoid LOL, SMH, and FML, please. All emoji speak and informal abbreviations are avoided.
  • Avoid emailing when emotional. Cool off before firing off!
  • Use the body of the email to state exactly what the issue is, what you have already done to work toward a solution, and what action you need from the email recipient. A good example...

Text Messages

Texting has become more popular because it is efficient, convenient and fast. Instructors will often allow use of text, health care facilities increasingly encourage use of text, and managers sometimes like to communicate via text. When using text to communicate in a professional capacity, use caution. Mobile text is ideal for communicating urgent scheduling updates and setting up longer meetings or making plans.
  • Expect a reply within 90 minutes.
  • Identify yourself rather than assume the person has your number in their contacts.
  • Keep it brief. Scrolling a text is not enjoyable.
  • Use client identifiers only if required by an internal, facility-monitored system. (Identifiers are generally avoided for ALL written communication!)
  • Keep the situation in mind.
    • If a lengthy response is required, state this in the text and then make arrangements for a different form of communication.
    • If the situation is best communicated in person or with a call, then do that instead.
Specific situations:
  • Do not use the HCP's text service to relay normal results or common issues that are not urgent. They'll take care of that when they do rounds.
  • Do not text nursing instructors to relay that you will be out for illness. Make the call. We like hearing your voice!
  • Do reply to the manager's text to say you are available for work at 7pm on Saturday the 9th—Or that you have plans. Do not ignore the text, though.

Phone Calls

When a phone call is required, consider what you need to say. Seems obvious, but unless you are calling your mom, significant other, or bestie: State who you are, why you are calling, and what is needed.


Yes, this applies to many types of conversations in the hospital and outside of it, but also:
  • The recipient may need to call back or you may need to leave a message.
  • Do not apologize for calling or "bothering". What you have to say is important.
  • Try to keep calls to urgent or emergent matters, particularly for nursing care needs.
  • Be ready with relevant information.
  • Call the right person. Make every effort to make sure you are calling the person who is in the best position to help.
  • Avoid storytelling. Use I-SBAR to focus and get to the point.

Social Media

We have written about the dangers and benefits of social media, but it is worth restating: Nothing you post, tweet, or chat is truly private or can be completely erased. Nothing. I mean, SCREENSHOTS. Social media is not an appropriate means for professional communication aside from sharing professional matters such as CDC updates, nursing-specific issues - like how to fit in a workout routine!, or determining when to meet for project work.

TeleHealth and Virtual Meetings

Virtual communication is an increasingly useful tool. Similar to face-to-face communication, using verbal and non-verbal communication skills is important. The ease of using virtual communication is removing barriers related to time and distance, promoting health access for those who are less mobile and bringing together the best work teams. Telemedicine and Telehealth incorporate ways in which to virtually monitor vital signs, recognize that someone has fallen at home, or to triage someone's urgent needs. Mental health crisis help lines and Holter monitors have been working from this model for years, and the area just keeps growing and improving! Virtual meetings can be used for almost any need where in-person communication would be used. It is important to avoid the urge to multitask, mentally checking out of the meeting. Otherwise, many of the same things that plague a "normal" meeting can also happen in a virtual one - everyone has seen the meme "Just survived another meeting that should have been an email." Make the most of the time together by being organized, collaborating, and achieving meeting goals. Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Petty Officer 3rd Class Maddelin Angebrand [Public domain]

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