Chapter 4: Tips from the Nurses

In terms of daily care and recovery of our loved one, the bedside nurse is our greatest asset.

Nurses are taught to be the patient advocates.  Something I did not know during my husband’s 8-week experience in the Duke University Hospital cardiothoracic intensive care unit.


ICU Basic Etiquette Pointers:

  • Nurses much prefer that you ring the call bell rather than come to the nurses’ station with questions. They really don’t like us standing in the nurses’ station.
  • For many reasons, including the privacy of other patients, don’t stand in the hallway. Be aware of designated family areas if you need to leave the patient’s hospital room.
  • When is a good time to ask questions? Any time except when a nurse is directly interacting in patient care or handing off care at a shift change.

A good start to open conversations with the nurse:

When a nurse hands off to the next shift, there is a place on their record for “events that happened today” and “plans for tomorrow.” So, to tie into that, it makes sense to ask these questions at the beginning and end of each shift:

  • At the beginning of the shift: “What is the plan for today?” PT? CT scan?
  • At the end of the shift: “Where are we going tomorrow?” 


Tips from the Nurses:

  • Remember to engage with your loved one who is in the hospital. Family members sometimes think they can’t touch their loved one. But normal engagement helps to ground the patient, like everyday conversation, holding hands, playing cards, watching a great sporting event on TV or listening to an audio book together.


  • Taking notes will help. Patients and bedside advocates who write things down tend to see the bigger picture sooner and can ask better questions.


  • Use an organizational chart to digest the different roles of the nursing team.


  • The relationship is between the patient and nurse first. The family advocate comes second. Please don’t interrupt when a nurse is working with the patient.


  • Ask the nurse for a preferred time for you to call them for a status update. For example, during the night shift, ask if you can call at 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Calling halfway through the shift for an update is reasonable. But it’s best to ask each nurse when to call in.