Medically Approved

9 things your nurse wishes you knew about your treatment

Nurse with a patient

How to be open, the trick to getting shots without fear, and the No. 1 thing you need to have in your phone.

Jessica Migala

By Jessica Migala

One of your best resources at a medical visit: your nurse. They’re there to listen to you, answer questions and make your appointment productive. And they have some pretty great insider info, too (such as how to handle needle fear).

Follow this advice from nurses about how you can make your appointments more effective, efficient and pleasant for everybody involved.

1. Your phone can help nurses give you the best care

Sure, you might not want to hop on Dr. Google to self-diagnose. (You almost always land on a conclusion that’s far worse than what you actually have going on.) But your phone — and especially your phone’s camera — can help you at the doctor’s office in a lot of ways, says Molly Erickson. She’s a palliative care nurse with Rush University Medical Group in Chicago. 

She recommends taking photos of visible symptoms (such as a rash) when they start. This will give your medical team a sense of how quickly things are evolving and how they’ve changed.

Also helpful: Take photos of your medication and supplement bottles in lieu of bringing them with you. Make sure the photo clearly shows the dosage and instructions so that your provider knows how often and how much of each medication you’re taking.

Don’t forget to download our free prescription discount app, too. It can help you find the lowest medication prices in your area.

2. You can confide in your nurse

“Your nurse is your advocate and safe place. You can come in with questions that you may not feel comfortable asking another provider,” says Kristene Diggins. She’s a family nurse practitioner in Waxhaw, North Carolina, and a fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

So be open and honest about what you’re feeling. If you have worries or you’re facing challenges related to your health, say so. Your nurse is there to help, not judge.

It’s also useful if you think ahead to your appointment and come up with a few burning questions that you’d otherwise hesitate to ask. One example? How can I save money on my health care expenses?

3. It’s normal to be squeamish

If you have needle nervousness, it’s not just you — there are many people who can relate. When you get to the appointment, tell your nurse that you get queasy at the sight of needles. If you’ve felt sick to your stomach or passed out in the past, be open about that, Diggins advises. Ask if there’s a bed that you can lay down in. And make sure you’re well hydrated with electrolyte-rich drinks before the appointment, she suggests.

Just knowing that you’re supported and don’t have to keep needle fear to yourself can make worries easier to deal with when it comes time for a shot, blood draw or intravenous treatment.

4. The wait in the emergency room (ER) isn’t necessarily a bad thing

There may be a time when you have to go to the ER, either for yourself or with a loved one. When you get there, you might end up waiting while other people jump ahead. This is a normal part of the triage process. It ensures that people with the most serious conditions get help first.

“There’s often this perception that we’re taking people out of order,” says Jennifer Schmitz. She’s a certified emergency nurse and president of the Emergency Nurses Association. But that’s not the case. “People are used to showing up and being processed in the order in which they arrived. But you don’t want us to do that in the ER.”

In the ER, the most serious emergencies are the highest priority. If that’s not you, think of it as a good thing. (And if you don’t have a real emergency, consider booking an appointment at urgent care, instead.)

5. Be open about what you’re not doing

Last time you were in, your doctor gave you a blood pressure prescription to fill or asked that you start walking 30 minutes per day. But your good intentions to follow through with that advice didn’t exactly go as planned. (Hey, no one is perfect.)

If you’re having trouble sticking to a doctor’s directions, let your nurse know at the start of the appointment. “It’s normal to feel judged for not following the instructions,” says Erickson. “But in order for us to take the best care of patients, we need to have a clear picture of what they are — or aren’t — doing."

That way, they can create a plan that will better fit your life, budget and preferences.

Recommended reading: Here are some easy ways to remember to take your medication.

6. Your nurse didn’t forget about you

If you’re at the hospital, know that when you’re first brought back, there will be a flurry of activity as they talk to you about your symptoms and begin necessary tests.

Then the waiting starts, says Schmitz. “That slowdown is totally normal. They did not forget about you,” she says. Rather, they’re likely waiting for test results or deciding what needs to be done next to make a diagnosis. If you have any questions during that time, don’t hesitate to use the call bell to gently check in.

7. Take advantage of online messaging

The nurse is always happy to talk to you on the phone. But if you have a general question, you’ll often get a speedier response if you message through the practice’s app or online platform, says Erickson.

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For example, maybe you forgot the name of the over-the-counter cream your doctor recommended or what side effects to expect from a new medication. “It’s a really great, efficient tool for patients to use, and you don’t have to wait for a call back,” she says.

Many times, the office will send an email to prompt you to set up an account on their platform. Or you may see information about this at the front desk in the waiting room. When in doubt, reach out to the office about the best way to submit a request.

8. Nurses can help you meet your goals

You saw your doctor, who advised you to lose or gain weight (or muscle), start exercising or sleeping better. Those are outcome goals, not detailed action steps. So it can be tough to translate that advice into real-world action.

If you don’t know the next steps on following through with your doctor’s advice, ask. Your nurse or nurse practitioner can help you build a plan specifically tailored to you and your goals, says Diggins. They can spend more focused time with you. This way, you leave the office feeling empowered, ready and even excited to tackle the challenge.

9. Your nurse is human, too

Seeking medical care can be a stressful experience, especially when you’re worried about your own health (or a loved one’s). That can bring out some fraught emotions, which are totally understandable. But it’s important to always be respectful and patient.

“Nurses are doing a lot of different things, and they may be coming from something critical or traumatic before going into your room,” says Schmitz. “While nurses are good at keeping a balance, you just don’t know where they were or what they just saw,” she says.

Keep that in mind during your interactions. They’re there to help you and make you feel cared for. Your experience will be better all around when you approach the situation with the same kindness they’re giving you.

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