How to Build Better Rapport with Patients

Building relationships with patients is one of the most important yet most difficult tasks as a nurse. We may only see patients for a very short time, and in that time we need to get them to trust us and allow us to offer the right care. If this is something you struggle with, here are a few steps to building better rapport with patients.

Get to Know Them

When you meet a new patient, don’t forget that they are a whole person and not just a physical embodiment of their disease or illness. Take some time to get to know them as a person. Ask about their family, their hobbies, their interests. People love talking about themselves, so this is a great way to get them to open up a bit. Don’t forget to listen to them and actively participate in the conversation. If they sense that you are going through the motions and not listening, they’ll be hesitant to continue.

Be Respectful

Depending on where you’re from, there might be a tendency to address people with generic terms of endearment like sweetie, honey, baby, or darling. While these are not generally offensive, it is best to err on the side of respect and address the patient as Ms./Mrs./Mr. Last Name. If they tell you to call them by their first name, go ahead and do that. If you aren’t sure, ask them how they would like you to address them. Once you know their preference, mark it down in their chart so other nurses will know as well.

Give them Ownership

One of the major roles of a nurse is that of an educator. It is vital that nurses help patients understand their diagnosis, treatment options, possible side effects, and anything else related to their primary health concern. Giving them literature to read and answering any questions they have is a great start. You can also explain to them in layman’s terms what things mean. Offering other resources such as support groups or appropriate website links will help minimize the feeling of powerlessness that they might be experiencing. Helping them have ownership of their own healing is a great way to build rapport, since they will grow to trust you.


Being in a hospital bed can be a terrifying experience for a lot of people. Often, talking things through is a way to help them cope with their situation. When having casual conversation or in-depth discussions about treatment options and prognosis, you should listen carefully and actively. Maintain appropriate eye contact, ask questions, and respond to their thoughts as needed. Being an active listener will show your patients that they have someone on their side who will pay attention to what they have to say.

Keep Your Word

It is our responsibility of nurses to help our patients understand what is going on and how to deal with it. That occasionally means that we need to offer help that isn’t necessarily part of our duties. For example, if a patient is newly diagnosed as a diabetic, you might let her know that you have a great list of resources she can look into when she goes home and that you’ll get it to her before she leaves. If you make that promise, stick to it! Make a note to get her that list immediately, before you forget. Otherwise, you’ll come off as flakey and unreliable, which could destroy the rapport you have built thus far.

Stay Calm

Many times we come into contact with patients that make building rapport all but impossible. They can be mean, demanding, impatient, and downright abusive to the nursing staff. This doesn’t mean that rapport is impossible. In these cases, the best tactic is to stay calm and courteous. Even with patients who are difficult, it’s up to us to remain professional at all times. You’d be surprised how many patients can turn their attitude around when we hold our friendly ground!

Final Thoughts

Building rapport with patients is indeed challenging. But by following the above steps, you’ll be able to create relationships and treat patients as well as you possibly can. Even when things seem tough, keep doing what you know you should, and you will certainly find building rapport easier over time.

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