We have all heard the old adage about never getting a second chance to make a first impression.
It may sound trite, but it's definitely true, and nowhere is that sentiment felt more profoundly than in the nurse-patient relationship.
Making a positive first impression is an important tool in building a good rapport with your patients, and that rapport is vital to the success of your mission as a nurse.
But how do you know if you're doing it right?
We've answered this question here with a checklist of what to do and what not to do when introducing yourself to new patients.
So, how do you introduce yourself to a patient? One of the ways to introduce yourself to a patient is by using the five “P's.” Prepare beforehand. Make sure you know who the patient is. When you walk into the room, acknowledge the patient by clearly saying their name.
We're diving deeper into this and than some below.
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Why is a proper introduction important to patients?
Most of us—even nurses—have been patients at one time or another in our lives.
In fact, it's often a good exercise in empathy for nurses to be patients every now and again because it helps them to remember what it's like to be on the receiving end of their nursing care.
The patient experience is a challenging one.
There are so many negative emotions associated with being a patient, and nurses are an important tool in helping to relieve some of the stressors that will lead to negative emotions.
After all, the more negativity a patient feels, the more his or her healthcare plans can be derailed even before they start.
Building trust is the number one reason it's vital for you, as a nurse, to introduce yourself to your patients—and to do it properly.
But knowing how to introduce yourself properly to a new patient can be difficult.
There are so many questions you can ask yourself even as you're approaching that first greeting.
- What is the proper way to introduce myself to my new patients?
- Is there a protocol when there are other nurses or doctors in the room?
- Should I smile? Should I make eye contact?
- And what about shaking hands—is it proper to shake hands with patients in a healthcare setting?
Proper Ways to Introduce Yourself to Patients
An article in the American Journal of Nursing written by professional nurses explains some of the science behind the importance of a proper nurse-patient introduction (source).
Proper introductions help nurses to establish trust, ensure patient safety, and effectively attend to the needs of their patients.
The following are some concrete steps you can take when introducing yourself to patients.
These steps will help you achieve the standards necessary to start out your nurse-patient relationship right.
1. Is there an introduction protocol?
Nurses, you know there is. Working in a doctors' office or a hospital is almost like working in the military or in law enforcement—there's always a pecking order for everything.
The highest-ranking person introduces him or herself first.
Then he or she will either introduce the others in the room to the patient or give them the opportunity to introduce themselves.
And, again, be sure to follow the proper pecking order. In other words, if you're a new grad, don't speak up and introduce yourself first.
2. Is it okay to sit?
If at all possible, always be sure to stand when introducing yourself to a new patient.
If a patient is being introduced to you, standing shows them you're treating them with respect.
3. Just how important is a smile?
There's an old Broadway show tune that says, “You're never fully dressed without a smile.” Don't be half-naked, nurses! Put on a smile!
The website of Psychology Today has a great article about all the wonderful effects of smiling.
One of the positive effects mentioned in this article is appearing competent—which is a definite advantage in gaining a patient's much-needed trust in your care plan (source).
The article goes on to say that if you “look sad or anxious,” it can actually make people wonder if you know what you're doing.
4. Should a nurse shake hands?
There are two schools of thought on this.
People seem to be more worried today about germs than ever before—and in a healthcare setting, concern for spreading germs is always at the fore.
However, believe it or not, a recent study showed that most patients—more than three-quarters, in fact—actually want healthcare professionals to shake their hands when they're introducing themselves (source).
Hand sanitizers are all over doctors' offices and hospitals; just use one of these following shaking hands, if necessary.
But, by all means, if you do use a hand sanitizer after shaking a patient's hand, always explain what you're doing and why!
5. What about eye contact?
This one seems so simple, doesn't it? Should you look a person in the eye when introducing yourself?
Of course! However, some people still don't get it, and sadly, healthcare professionals are so busy that sometimes they just forget.
Always be sure to make friendly eye contact with your patient when introducing yourself.
It projects confidence and competence, and it gives the impression that you're directing all of your attention to your patient's needs.
6. What's in a name?
Patients want to know your name. Generally speaking, they won't feel comfortable with receiving care from you unless they hear you introduce yourself by your name.
Should I call them by their first names? This can be a little more tricky.
Recent studies show that patients under the age of 65 prefer that healthcare professionals call them by their first names. If you're attending to a patient over 65, ask first.
A simple ‘May I call you by your first name?” will go a long way with older patients.
Improper Ways to Introduce Yourself to Patients
Are there things a nurse can do that can make a bad impression?
Absolutely—and unfortunately, when a nurse makes a bad impression, it can negatively impact care.
Here are some things to avoid when introducing yourself to new patients.
1. Not giving your name
It's not enough to have it on a name tag; patients tend to feel like their needs are not important to you if you don't freely give your name when introducing yourself. This is equally true if you don't use a patient's name when addressing him or her.
2. Not giving your full attention
This is one of the biggest complaints patients have about healthcare professionals.
Patients hate it when healthcare professionals walk into a room and ignore them, or talk about them to each other as though they're not in the room.
Always listen to your patient, and by all means, never ever ignore a patient when attending to him or her.
3. Not acting in a friendly manner
Don't act aloof or indifferent to patients, particularly when they're voicing their discomfort or concerns to you.
This is one of the major complaints patients in long-term care tend to have about healthcare professionals.
Every patient is an individual—a human being with a life, family, achievements, concerns—be sure to always be friendly and kind to every patient.
Yes, being a nurse brings with it frustrating and aggravating moments.
Yes, there are some patients that are going to be difficult to deal with.
But if you look at every patient as someone who could be your mom, your dad, your son, your sister, your daughter—that will help you to be friendly and compassionate at all times.
4. Not giving an explanation
This is another complaint patients tend to have about the healthcare setting—that explanations are not being given about what's being done to them (source).
A patient who knows what you're doing will better understand the ‘why,' and that understanding will go a long way in trusting you and appreciating your healthcare plan for them.
Nursing is one of the most challenging occupations on the planet.
It's rewarding, sure, but it can be tough—and now the spotlight is on something you may not have thought much about before—the proper way to introduce yourself to your patients.
Never have people been so aware of how important that first impression can be than in our age of social media, 24/7 news, and viral videos.
But introducing yourself properly to your patients isn't about you, it isn't about the media, and it isn't about what could end up on social media or on the news.
It's about caring for your patients.
For a nurse, making a good first impression is the start of a positive nurse-patient relationship that can make your patients trust and respect you more, and that can make the care you give them so much more effective.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are therapeutic relationships important in nursing?
Therapeutic relationships can improve the overall care a patient is receiving. An improved patient care would lead to improved patient outcomes. One of the ways a therapeutic relationship does this is by fostering trust between the nurse and the patient.
What are the benefits of a good nurse-patient relationship?
The benefits of a good nurse-patient relationship is that: it makes it easier to provide patient care, it improves patient outcomes, it makes the nurse's job easier.