Nurse Keith: Relationships as the Engine of Nursing

Many nurses naturally think of the nursing process and critical thinking as two of the engines that drive the vehicle of nursing care. While these are hallmarks of our profession, nursing is also driven by another engine: relationships

Relationships in nursing school

During nursing education, interaction with professors, fellow students, preceptors, and others is central to the student experience. Nursing can’t be learned in a vacuum or solely in front of a computer; the nursing student must be immersed in a sea of relationships that informs the process of becoming a qualified healthcare professional.

In study groups, student nurses engage in co-learning that offers opportunities for mutual support and informal education between students. In clinical settings, relationships with patients, peers, preceptors, allied health professionals, clinical instructors, doctors, and others teach the student nurse the collaborative nature of healthcare delivery. The camaraderie of nursing school can indeed be a powerfully formative force.

Relationships in the workplace

No matter if a nurse works in outpatient dialysis, research, a call center, assisted living, ICU, or flight nursing, relationships are the basis of how and why things get done in our profession. Compromise, collaboration, and mutual learning are key aspects of workplace relationships.

Nurses look to one another for support, advice, assistance, reflection, and affirmation. In the clinical setting, nurses ask one another to double-check an order, assist with a procedure, provide backup during well-deserved breaks, or any other number of requests.

Even in education, nursing research, the pharmaceutical industry, or biotech, nurses need relationships with colleagues who can corroborate data and provide valuable feedback. Nurses can work with scientists, informaticists, engineers, and all manner of professionals, many of whom work in entirely non-clinical roles. Moreover, nurses must understand how to cultivate relationships with managers, executives, administrators, insurance representatives, and other important figures within the healthcare milieu.

Workplace relationships are central to the nursing experience, and no relationship is more key than the nurse-patient connection. In nursing school, a great deal of attention should be paid to this crucial relationship that nurses must learn to forge in order to provide the best possible care. Patient’s families also figure in nursing’s relational sphere, and the navigation of complex interpersonal dynamics is squarely within the nurse’s purview.

The wider world

Nurses are like anyone else; they have friends, colleagues, peers, acquaintances, and others with whom they interact regularly. Relationships are, after all, a natural part of life. A nurse’s essential “nurseness” can often speak for itself. For instance, a nurse may regularly check on an elderly neighbor out of a feeling of nurse-like responsibility for the neighbor’s well-being. Another nurse might volunteer providing free healthcare to the homeless or organizing a diabetes fund-raiser 10k race.

In essence, nursing is rooted in the real world, and it relies on the interplay of individuals, groups, and institutions. The nurse can serve as a conduit and exemplar of healthy communication and the building of positive rapport.

Nursing students can learn the skills of relationship and carry them into their professional practice. And seasoned nurses can continue to hone their communication skills, increase their emotional and relational intelligence, and use the power of relationships to foster improved nursing care and more satisfying careers.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, consultant, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. He can be found at

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