Saying No to a Nursing Assignment

By Jennifer Ward on Mon, Oct 27, 2014

Saying No to a Nursing AssignmentSaying no in the workplace can be complicated and difficult. Declining a nursing assignment can lead to workplace tension, and in some instances, it could mean the loss of a promotion or confidence by management. It is important to have a healthy balance in our personal and professional lives, and this often includes saying 'no' at times.

Here are some suggestions for ways to turn down nursing assignments in the work place and still be successful:

  1. Provide an alternative solution.

    If you are not able to accept an assignment, offer an alternative solution to facilitate the accomplishment of the task. This demonstrates a devotion to the wellness of the unit and/or practice at hand. It also demonstrates the ability to trouble-shoot and/or to think critically. These traits are imperative in the nursing world.

  2. Before you can accept, indicate what you will need to accomplish the task.

    Often, what stands in the way of task completion is a “supply.” This supply is often time. Consider the following situation: Your manager asks you to pick up a nursing shift on the weekend. One solution is to say that you will accept if you can leave a bit early Friday afternoon. This is analogous to negotiating, but that is common practice in the workforce. Nursing is no exception and this will allow you, as the employee and as an individual, to feel more valued.

  3. Be clear and to the point.

    If you accept a task, be clear and straightforward with what you will need to do or your suggested alternative solution. But, if you simply are unable to accept a task proposal, do not be indecisive. It is ok to say no if you have other plans or simply cannot do it.

  4. Remain assertive yet empathetic.

    One way to say no is to say, “…I know that you would benefit from my help tomorrow and I really wish that I was in a position to help you, but I have already made other plans for which I cannot cancel. I hope that you will understand, and I appreciate your asking me.” This response is clear and to the point but demonstrates empathy and sensitivity.

  5. Accept only assignments that you can do and do well.

    If you are simply too exhausted to accept an assignment, it is perfectly alright to say no. Otherwise the quality of the job and the quality of your well-being will suffer. Similarly, if you are not comfortable doing a specified job indicate that you would be willing to accommodate if you had the necessary training.

Turning down a nursing assignment takes practice, but saying no at times can result in a healthier balance between work and leisure. It does not make you a less valuable employee. In fact, it imbibes the opposite. Hopefully these techniques will prove helpful and will coach you in saying no.

Have you ever turned down a nursing assignment? Why did you do it?


Lee Williams 3 months ago
I was working in the ER when a man was brought to the ER by ambulance with chest pain multiple injuries and bleeding. It was a small place only 1 nurse a tech and a physician. The doctor came out did his thing and wrote oreders for care. It ws my responsibility to implement them. The client was in severe pain and I offered to provide treatment, which he refused. Not because he didn't want or need it but because I was the wrong type. He cussed and swore at me multiple times. He used words that are very disrespectful and inapprp\opriate yet I continued to provide options. He continued to refuse. After 45 minutes of this the physician returned to see this patient unrelieved. I expressed the issue and he told the client he is the nurse and he is the only one who can help your pain. He refused again. Finally I offered and he accepted the injection. I stayed with this client even in the face of multiple insults. I didn't take it personally I acted professionally. By the way, it was the best shot I ever gave. Personal bias will cause you to refuse an assignment that has nothing to do with healthcare. Protecting the client against harm is my only reason to refuse.

Barbara Jacobson 3 months ago
I applaud your assertiveness in no doing a task in which you are not trained nor comfortable in the interest of the patient. I have had nurses refuse to give the morning after pill after a physician ordered the medication. The nurses refused due to their convictions. I agree with this practice also. No person, whether they are a nurse or not should not be condemned when they are not trained or it goes against their morals. Of course there are always people that use it for an excuse for not doing something, but I have found that a majority of the people want to do the right thing and in the safety of the patient.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I was working at a rural hospital on the OB ward. A premature babe was born with multiple anomalies. The MD told me to start a scalp IV. I had never done a newborn scalp IV and told the MD that she needed to do that task. The MD was a bit angry but I was watching out for the newborn, who was later transferred to a larger hospital for care. I have said 'no' many times in my 50+ years as a nurse. Always keeping the welfare of patients in mind saying 'no' may be the right thing to do.

Lee Williams 3 months ago
Outstanding decision. If you have not qualified yourself with that skill you should err on the side of caution. Way to lookout for the client.