Nurse Interview Questions About Patient Complaints

Nursing filling out patient chart
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Nursing is definitely not an easy job. There’s a lot of juggling communication with doctors, patients, and their families, during very trying times. It may seem like someone is always complaining about something and the patient's stress can become your own when you're handling a barrage of complaints. If you have an interview for a nursing job, the interviewer will probably ask questions about how you handle patient complaints.

Essentially, the interviewer is trying to determine how well you handle stress and how you’ll treat patients and family members when they’re upset and have made a complaint.

A nurse who does a bad job of handling a complaint may escalate the situation into something much worse, so it’s important to know how you’d assess and handle any such complaints.

Nursing Skills to Highlight During an Interview

There are two important skills to highlight during a job interview in order to illustrate how you handle the daily stresses of a demanding job: flexibility and empathy.

Flexibility: Every day can be different on the job; you never know what to expect. As a nurse, you have to handle varying shifts, heavy workloads, paperwork, and dealing with physicians and your patients’ families. Having a non-compliant patient who complains requires you to be flexible, think on your feet, and come up with solutions to his or her problems while keeping everyone happy.

Empathy: Giving patients care and showing concern and empathy are inherent parts of taking care of people who are sick, in pain, or in crisis. Patients (and their families) need your attention but can be challenging when they complain, and may push your buttons or test your limits. Nurses may also deal with compassion fatigue – essentially, an empathy burnout from helping people around the clock. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes patients' complaints are nothing more than a coping skill in a situation over which the patient has little control.

Interview Questions About Dealing With Patients' Complaints

If you’re nervous about your upcoming interview and aren’t sure exactly what to expect, you may benefit from a review of the following potential interview questions about patient complaints:

  • How would you handle a patient who complains indiscriminately about everything?
  • How do you handle a patient who voices dislike for the food and refuses to eat?
  • How do you handle a patient who subsequently has his family bring in outside food that is contraindicated because of his diet?
  • How would you deal with a patient who complains of pain?
  • How do you handle a patient who cannot have any additional pain medication?
  • How do you manage a patient's irritation when whiteboards aren't updated notifying him of whom his nurse on duty is?
  • How do you placate a patient who's disgruntled with her roommate?
  • How do you manage someone who complains about getting out of bed?
  • How do you encourage a patient who complains about taking care of his basic self-care?
  • How do you handle a patient who complains about her doctor?
  • How do you handle a patient who complains that his phone or television doesn't work?
  • Nurses or technicians have to do tests or draw blood in the middle of the night. How do you deal with patients who complain about interrupted or lack of sleep?
  • How do you handle a patient complaint about a noisy nursing station that irritates him or disrupts his sleep?
  • How do you deal with a patient who complains about your care, specifically?
  • What's your strategy for a patient complaining about inadequate response to her complaints?
  • What's your approach for a patient complaining about rude or inattentive staff?
  • How do you placate a patient complaining about long waits for tests?

How to Frame Your Response

One very effective way to frame your response to interview questions about handling patient complaints is to use the STAR interview response strategy. Most of the questions we’ve looked at here are situational interview questions – hypothetical questions that seek to gauge how you would provide solutions to any given situation with a patient.

Use the STAR technique to define the situation posed by the question (a complaining patient), identify your task (to defuse the complaint), outline your approach (how you have resolved similar issues in the past), and describe the result of your actions.

And so, for instance, you might say something like:

Whenever I’ve had a patient who complains about something, I first of all remind myself that they are in a very stressful situation. My task, as I see it, is to acknowledge that they have a valid complaint (even if they don’t), and then work with them to see how we can remediate the situation.

90% of the time, I’ve found, patients simply want to know that they are being heard. When I actively listen to them, they become more willing to then accept the solutions I can offer.

Practice Makes Interview Perfect

Now that you have an idea of what questions to expect, take some time to prepare for your interview by practicing your answers. Say them out loud a few times – that way you’ll feel more comfortable when it’s time for you to respond in a real interview.

Even better, if you have a friend, colleague, or family member willing to pose as the interviewer, ask them to role-play a mock interview with you. He or she can read each of these questions to you and you can practice your answers.

Of course, you’ll be asked questions about a variety of things, so take some time to review this guide to nursing interview questions, answers, and tips. You might also like to have a look at the most frequently asked interview questions in order to prepare for any general questions that might be posed.

Key Takeaways

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER REALLY WANTS TO KNOW: By asking how you handle patient complaints, your interviewer for a nursing job wants to see whether you have the empathy and flexibility required to function well in a fast-paced, often stressful healthcare environment.

USE EXAMPLES: When asked situational interview questions about how you would deal with complaints, use the STAR interview response technique to offer an example of how you have successfully resolved a similar problem in the past.

PRACTICE YOUR RESPONSES: Practicing your answers to commonly asked interview questions beforehand will ensure that you don’t become tongue-tied under the stress of the actual interview. A job candidate for a nursing position who displays nervousness during an interview may raise the concern that he or she would also be easily stressed out at work. Demonstrate that you are cool and collected by preparing your answers in advance.