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How to Manage Conflict Amongst Staff Nurses

by Kristine Tucker

Conflicts often arise between co-workers and disagreements between staff nurses are no exception. As a supervisor or manager you might need to intervene if conflicts between your nurses go unresolved for long periods of time or create stress. You don't want to show favoritism or partiality, so it's best to discuss matters privately between the nurses involved and avoid discussing the issues publicly.

Address Shift Changeover Issues

Staff nurses work shifts so changeovers are often a cause of contention. Incoming nurses need to know what care has been given and what needs to be done with patients on their floor because conditions, treatments and medications often change during a patient's stay. Exiting nurses are often exhausted and don't want to micromanage or explain all the details to arriving nurses, especially when incoming nurses are tardy. Resolve changeover issues by establishing consistent changeover guidelines, such as asking incoming nurses to arrive during the final 15 or 30 minutes of the previous nurse's shift. Or, create patient checklists that must be discussed by both nurses during shift changes. .

Mediate Private Discussions

Meet with disgruntled nurses in the privacy of your office and play the role of mediator. Sometimes staff nurses need a private place to air their concerns, without fearing that patients, patients' families, doctors and other medical staff will hear their complaints or get involved. Give each nurse time to respond to the other's complaints or frustrations. When issues are work-related, validate reasonable concerns or complaints and restate hospital or nurse station policies. Review official job descriptions so each nurse is reminded of her job expectations, especially if their roles differ. When issues are personal, remind them that they must not let their differences interfere with patient care. Notify human resources when ongoing conflicts negatively affect work responsibilities -- formal staff counseling might be available.

Be the Boss

Once you have a clear understanding of who's involved in the conflict, what the issues are, and how the disagreement started, take your stand. You are the supervisor, so it's your job to reprimand nurses who are out of line. Speak to troublesome nurses privately and review policies, procedures, protocol and standards. Discuss topics that led to the conflict, such as inappropriate bedside manners, poor patient documentation, nurse station disorganization, rude language or behavior, insufficient sanitation procedures, poor communication, laziness, noncooperation or negligence. Remind problematic nurses that effective patient care requires a team-centered mindset and there's no room for contentious behavior.

Show No Favoritism

Discourage competition, popularity contests and brown-nosing. Some patients, doctors and medical staff naturally connect with specific nurses or certain personality types, so you must dampen favoritism as much as possible. Juggle schedules so the same nurses don't always work with the same doctors or treat the same patients. Avoid singling out nurses for anything other than excellent service, and don't favor any staff over others. The goal is to create an effective, unified nursing staff that meets patient needs.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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