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How To Build Positive Nurse-Patient Relationships

Brenda Montoya, RN
September 28, 2022
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Nurses claimed the most trusted profession in 2021 according to Gallup, snatching the #1 spot for honesty and ethics for the 20th year in a row. At the heart of the profession, the spirit of nursing is hinged on the relationship between the patient and you as the nurse.

Think about your desire to become a nurse. Most people enter the nursing profession wanting to make a difference, meet and connect with other people, and help others heal. Relationships are the ties that bond us with our patients and make all the hard work worthwhile. 

So how do you build a positive nurse-patient relationship? It’s important to understand the dynamics of this special relationship and how to positively build it, benefitting you both.

What are the core phases of a nurse-patient relationship?

By definition, the nurse-patient relationship is created by the interaction and communication between the nurse and the person seeking care. Both have the common goal of improving the health or well-being of the patient. Hildegard E. Peplau first formally theorized the phases of the nurse-patient relationship, identifying three main stages.

Orientation Stage

The orientation stage begins for the patient upon seeking help and adjusting to new circumstances. The nurse enters this stage when initially meeting the patient, gaining information about their situation and priorities of care. This phase usually begins upon the initiation of care - such as when the patient presents to an emergency room, or when you assume care, such as at a change of shift. 

When entering this phase it is important to foster mutual respect when meeting your patient for the first time. Using preferred names and respecting your patient’s cultural practices, as well as pointing out how to communicate with you are important aspects of this phase. You should also clarify what to expect from each other during your time together.

Working/Exploration/Identification Stage

Most of the nurse-patient relationship will be spent during the working phase. This is when you will perform physical assessments, provide medications or therapeutic care, and spend time teaching and implementing other aspects of the care plan. Your patient will become familiar with you as their nurse - accepting your role as their educator and resource. They will learn to communicate physical needs or gaps in education and ask for your assistance.

It is important for you as the nurse to clarify the patient’s understanding of their care and identify their needs. In this phase, you both will gain this clarification to create and implement an effective plan of care. Together you can set up timelines and expectations for the necessary steps to meet the patient’s goals. 

Termination/Resolution stage

The termination phase is often thought of as discharge planning. In this phase, you will review the patient’s progress to identify any remaining educational gaps or unmet needs. Nursing care at this phase is complete with the anticipation of the patient’s discharge to continue on their own.

How to build a positive, productive nurse-patient relationship

Some key steps can be taken during each of these phases to build the nurse patient relationship into a more positive and productive one. 


Listening is a core component of an effective relationship in any setting. As a nurse, it is even more important to listen by giving the patient your full attention, gaining a better understanding of their needs. This not only makes the patient feel more valued, but you can also learn critical information to provide more timely and effective interventions.

Showing respect

Showing respect is a tool used across all cultural boundaries to effectively communicate. There is a wide range of differences between individuals, but when respect is the base of the relationship these differences can be narrowed. You should always respect your patient’s privacy, as well as speak in a respectful voice and tone. Boundaries should be reinforced with your patient to include respectful consideration in return.

Staying positive and realistic

As nurses, we are caring for patients in a broad spectrum of situations. For example, a hospice nurse will likely have a different approach to a patient’s care than a labor and delivery nurse. It is vital to keep a positive outlook, no matter what the situation is. Your attitude can greatly influence the patient’s perspective.

This does not mean you should encourage the patient with unrealistic expectations. On the contrary, honesty is incredibly important for the nurse to build trust with their patient. False hope or fostering unrealistic outcomes will only break this trust and damage your relationship. Staying positive about realistic expectations is more effective, allowing the patient to reach obtainable goals. 

What are the benefits of a good nurse-patient relationship?

It has been shown that both nurses and patients benefit from an effective relationship, feeling valued and experiencing greater overall satisfaction. Studies also quote a good nurse patient relationship can reduce the length of hospital stays, as well as improve the quality of care and satisfaction of both the nurse and patient.

When you make a positive connection with your patient, they ultimately will benefit from that experience. Your presence and connection with them can reduce their anxiety, improve the retention of your education, and build their trust in you. These factors positively influence their experience, and can even help improve their outcome.

As a nurse, there is no greater satisfaction than knowing you have helped another human being. Engaging with your patient authentically allows you the benefit of creating this mutually beneficial relationship. You are more likely to follow up on the patient’s needs because you have emotionally invested in the outcome. When your patient says a happy goodbye to you as they are discharged home, you can feel good about the role you had in their care.

How Trusted Health can help you foster good nurse-patient relationships

As a traveling nurse, the limited time you have on a contract can seem insufficient to build meaningful relationships. Nothing could be further from the truth! The time you spend with your patients - whether it is 2 hours or 2 weeks - is enough for you to have a significant impact. You will also benefit from the good vibes of helping someone get back on their feet again.

Trusted Health is here to help you foster good nurse patient relationships, and we have more resources available to you. Read in our blog about how to advocate for patient safety here, or find out how to keep the joy in your journey here.

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