What Are You Struggling With?

7 Steps to Confidently Communicate with a Doctor

Everyone is nervous about this!

You are not alone! Getting comfortable talking to a doctor takes time and experience, but everyone has to start somewhere. It’s better to be prepared rather than fumbling and losing others respect and confidence. Having that said, I want you to rest easy knowing that:

  1. You are advocating for something better for your patient
  2. It is always better to be safe than sorry

It can be super scary to talk to a doctor especially when you are a new nurse and they are not a very nice doctor. The best thing you can do is make sure you have your ducks in a row.

How to talk to a doctor

Before Calling a Doctor:

Make sure you have done the following:

  1. Checked all orders
    • Nursing communication notes
    • Medical administration record (MAR)
    • Signed and held orders
    • Hospital protocols
  2. Attempted to fix the problem within the nursing scope of practice
    • Depending on the situation, some examples of things to do include:
      • Taken a manual blood pressure
      • Switched fingers the pulse ox is on
      • Raised the head of the bed (HOB)
      • Suctioned the patient if indicated
      • Initiated protocols such as a bolus of fluid for hypotension
      • Eliminated compounding issues to the problem such as removing blankets from a febrile patient
  3. Gathered the following information:
    • A helpful tool to use is the SBAR tool
      • Situation
        • Describe your concern
        • Description of what the patient is doing at this time and if applicable what they were doing during the time the concerning issue occurred
        • A list of the things you did to correct the problem
      • Background
        • Patient pertinent history
        • List of patient allergies
      • Assessment
      • Recomendation
        • This is where you explain what you need the doctor to do
  4. Made sure you are contacting the correct doctor for the problem
    • If your patient has a cardiologist and a neurologist, you will want to contact the cardiologist for a change in heart rate and not the neurologist.
    • A good habit to get into at the start of your shift is having a list of the the doctors that each patient has and who is on call during what hours.
  5. Find out if any other nurses need to speak to this doctor before calling
    • This avoids the doctor getting multiple calls from the same unit

Doctor calls6. Have a piece of paper available to write down anything the doctor might say or order.

7. Take a deep breath

  • You’ve got this, you have prepared as much as you can and you are as good as you prepared yourself to be! Don’t let the status of doctor or nurse make you feel threatened. Good doctors will be focused on the patient; good nurses will do the same.
  • Do not apologize for calling the doctor, this is their job, they are there for these reasons.


If you called the doctor and didn’t need to:

Make it a lesson. We are human, we all make mistakes, some are costlier than others. Check out this post by Nurse Eye Roll on when to call the doctor!

If I need a reality check, I will often consider, “Did I cause a patient harm or just inconvenience someone?” Often you are going to be the one who is going to suffer because someone (doctors or other nurses) will have a poor opinion of you and these are the people you have to work with so I get it, that sucks!

Perhaps that doctor didn’t need to wake up and that kind of sucks, too. But that one time you were too afraid to call and your patient has to move to the ICU because their condition plummeted, you will get over the ladder quickly.

Remember we are the patients’ advocates and our job is to keep those patients safe and hopefully heal their ailment.

Saving patient

Date Published - May 14, 2016
Date Modified - May 14, 2016

Susan DuPont, RN BSN

Written by Susan DuPont, RN BSN

Susan DuPont, RN, BSN works as an Emergency Department nurse in Michigan. Her true passion is the pediatric population. When she is not nursing she is buffing up on her outdoor survival skills or lifting weights.


  1. Muzamil

    it’s so informative. your articles are always amazing

  2. Cassie Long

    Grey advice! I notice in nursing that the more you use the SBAR method with doctors it starts to become a habitual form of communication easily. One of my biggest fears as a new nurse is being disrespected by a doctor. Do you have any podcasts or blogs about how to deal with a doctor like that?