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What are some Communication Challenges in Nursing?

9th June 21

Effective communication in any capacity is important, but in nursing, poor communication can be detrimental to patient health. It can also be costly for the healthcare industry, with poor communication costing the NHS over £1billion per year. Which makes overcoming communication challenges in nursing a very high priority.

From repeat visits to clinics giving out incorrect medications or patients taking the wrong dose, the repercussions can be severe. Nurses who communicate effectively with every patient they see can help avoid any misunderstandings that could result in poor health, a negative patient experience and potential legal disputes.

As a nurse, you would never set out with the intention of communicating poorly. But there are many potential barriers to effective communication between you and your patients that you may be unaware of.

The bustling hospital environment and the patient’s condition can all hinder their ability to take in important information. And misinterpretation can be common between people from different cultures, linguistic settings or with different beliefs. Language barriers can make misunderstandings all too common and make already stressful situations worse.

Equally some cultures and beliefs can instil challenging perspectives towards illnesses and treatments in patients. You will need to work to help them understand their condition and what can be done to address it.

While there are lots of opportunities for this to occur, with the right skills and training you can overcome potential problems. Learning about the challenges you could run into now can help you understand what to look out for ahead of starting your career as a nurse. Enabling you to become more effective in your role and improving the healthcare experience for your future patients.

Demonstrating this knowledge in your application could also help you to get onto an undergraduate course.

Find out more about some of the common communication challenges in nursing and how you can overcome them below.

learndirect - What are some Communication Challenges in Nursing?

Time Pressures

People don’t communicate as effectively when they are in a rush. And nurses are often juggling several patients and tasks when they are on shift. As a nurse, you’ll no doubt have times where you’re needed in multiple places at once. While this can be difficult, you need to make time to communicate effectively with colleagues and patients.

Communication failures resulting in serious harm are rare, but failing to pass on any patient information can have serious repercussions. If you’re too busy to effectively pass on patient updates and instructions, the next nurse could administer the wrong medication. Or encourage patients to take an incorrect dose of the right one. That’s why effective communication between colleagues is so important, especially is at the end-of-shift handover.

With patients, besides making sure they’ve understood vital information, taking time to get to know your patients is also important. Building a relationship with them enables you to get familiar with them and understand how they communicate best. It can also make it easier to have more difficult conversations about their health later if needed.

No matter what is going on around you, you’ll need to make sure each patient knows and understands you. Despite any interruptions or delays because of other pressing needs on the ward.

Should you need to attend to an urgent matter, agree to come back to continue your conversation at another time. This makes sure no one feel neglected or anxious because they don’t know what is going on with their care.

learndirect - What are some Communication Challenges in Nursing?

Environmental Factors

Working in a hospital or busy clinic will be something you’ll become completely accustomed to. But for your patients, it’s likely an environment they haven’t spent much time in. The hustle and bustle can be quite a lot to take in. And many patients can find it hard to focus on one thing when so much else is going on around them.

Whether it’s background noise or a high traffic area, you’ll need to be mindful of your surroundings. Your patients may make out like they’ve heard you by nodding and going along with the motions of conversation. But you’ll need to check their clarity of the situation and, if possible, take them somewhere quieter for important discussions.  

The healthcare environment also poses challenges in communication between health professionals. Critical information is often passed over in a combination of handwritten notes, e-mails and other means. Which can lead to severe consequences if there is miscommunication.

And, as much as nurses and other health professionals work as a team, they also work autonymously a lot of the time. Which can lead to potential confusion from conflicting information and variation in instructions or data.

learndirect - What are some Communication Challenges in Nursing?

Pain and Fatigue

Another thing you’ll need to bear in mind is how the patient is feeling when you are talking with them. There are many instances when you need to gain imperative information from people who are extremely ill and distressed. In times like these, pain, intense emotions or symptoms can reduce their concentration.

Be sure to acknowledge pain and discomfort when you’re talking to them. But stress the importance of why you need the information to proceed. Patients can also be sleepy or drowsy after sleepless nights, medication, sedation or anaesthesia. So be wary of the impact of that on their ability to talk with you too and prioritise the information you need.

If you are concerned about diminished capacity due to illness, injury, medication, an identified disability or similar, you will need an advocate present. This way you can communicate with them too and gain informed consent for any treatment or procedure.

Break your questions down into short, manageable requests and impart information in concise digestible chunks. Acknowledging how they are feeling can also show empathy and make them more receptive.

learndirect - What are some Communication Challenges in Nursing?

Embarrassment and Anxiety

Talking about personal subjects in front of strangers can make anyone feel uncomfortable. And in a healthcare environment, patients often need to reveal private and personal information about themselves and their condition.

You will need to consider that they may be feeling embarrassed or anxious about divulging this information to you. Patients can also feel awkward when they have to wear gowns or remove clothes for examinations.

Any of these encounters could hamper effective communication. You will need to anticipate these situations and try to minimise any embarrassment where possible. Exuding a comforting persona while using straightforward, open communication to ease difficult conversations.


The way you talk with your colleagues will be different to how you converse with patients. Nurses and other healthcare staff use a lot of terminology and abbreviations. In addition to the already unfamiliar names of medications, procedures and conditions.

You’ll need to remember to avoid using technical jargon and clinical acronyms with patients. Oftentimes people can be too polite to ask you to clarify something for them. So they may just go along with the conversation and pretend that they know what you’re saying.

Be sure to say everything clearly and use simple language to explain complex things. If you have to use jargon, follow it up with a clear explanation.

learndirect - What are some Communication Challenges in Nursing?

Values, Beliefs and Assumptions

People’s perceptions of the same situation can vary. Patients social or cultural beliefs, values, traditions, biases and prejudices can all impact how they perceive something. Or how they interpret information. This could lead to misinterpretation, reinterpretation and other instances that would make them fail to understand or listen to you.  

You also need to be aware of the way you perceive situations too. As incorrectly assuming something about the patient’s information can cause offence.

In order to avoid friction and build a better patient-nurse relationship, state and find facts early on. Clarifying your role and what you do right away can avoid misperceptions about your importance or authority.

Building that all-important rapport can also help patients feel comfortable talking about themselves in greater depth. Perhaps shedding light on aspects important to their care that you would otherwise have not known.

Information Overload

Sometimes, the sheer volume of information a patient needs to hear can be one of the main communication challenges in nursing. Trying to absorb lots of information in one sitting may make it difficult for your patients to take everything in. Especially when they are upset, distressed or in shock.

If possible, try to have someone else like a friend or relative of the patient present as well. You could also ask them to take notes if the patient is happy for the third party to hear what is being said. Otherwise, if it is just the patient you’re speaking with, emphasise the importance of certain information to draw their attention. Saying things like ‘this is important’ or ‘I need you to pay attention to what I’m about to say next’.

Alternatively, with consent, you could ask to record the conversation on their mobile phone. So they can listen back to it at another time when they are in a better position to digest the information.

learndirect - Communication Challenges in Nursing

Study Nursing Online

You can further enhance your communication skills for nursing ahead of employment with an online course.

learndirect is the leading UK distance learning provider, with online courses to help you communicate with patients and your team. There is also a course that focuses on effective communication for consent purposes, which is extremely important in nursing.

In these courses, you’ll learn how skilful, and flexible, communication in the workplace can improve the patient’s experience. The role of communication in the consent process. And how effective team communication can be essential for creating an effective working atmosphere and providing the best possible patient care.

When you’re ready to take the next step towards your nursing career, we can also help. Our online Access to Higher Education Diploma (Nursing) enables you to progress to university without A-level qualifications.

Find out more about what you’ll learn and how this course will benefit you below.

learndirect - Get Started in Nursing

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