So... how do you deflect family members when you're busy?

Nurses General Nursing


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251 Posts

1. Family members do not suck. You are one. Someday you will have a relative in hospital or yourself.

2.I know you are busy but study some basic communication skills. You might even try reading "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie.

3. Tell the family what you need to do and if you need space. Do not be rude. In your career you are always going to experience family complaints unless you happen to be God and then it would not matter. As long as you never say anything that you personally feel is rude or improper you can live with yourself and any problem you have with management. as the old saying says be true to yourself. Do your job and get on with your life


1 Post

I work in the ICU. We get the same issue's with families. They really don't care that the guy in the next room is not breathing. They only care about why they didn't get their ice water. I never tell them we are short staffed or that I am too busy for them. I do however tell them.

"What you are needing is important to me. We are having an emergency at this time which takes priority. It may be a while before I can get to what you need. I will try to find someone to help you or I will get to you as soon as I am able." Sometimes they understand. Sometimes they don't.

Our hospital is very customer service orientated. I feel there needs to be a balance between customer service and reality.

jrbl77, RN

250 Posts

Specializes in Med Surg, Parish Nurse, Hospice.

As others have stated, families don't care about anyone but their own loved one. I have had family members stop me in the hall as I was going into other patients rooms. I try my best to see if the pt with the family member has a life or death problems- such as not breathing- choking-falling out of bed. if they are breathing and safe, I tell them I will be back as soon as I am finished giving the other pt my attention. I, my self do not ever tell pts that we are short staffed, I don't feel that this is something they need to concern themselves with. If the staff is busy (usual) they probably are already aware of that. You also have to remember that you will never make everyone happy and some people you will never make happy. Just do the best that you can and try to not load yourself down with guilt.

I feel your pain. I have also been investigating ways to handle family members. This is my two cents...

1. Be nice and honest from the get go and they WILL trust you

2. Once the trust is established, you can use them to your advantage

3. A seasoned nurse taught me this one....when they have all kinds of questions, tell them to get a notebook and write them down. Leave the notebook in the room. When the dr. comes in and answers the ?'s, WRITE IT DOWN. That way, everyone involved(including me) can look at it.

4. LESS IS MORE. I learned very quickly to not give extraneous information to the pt. or the family. It creates confusion. Sometimes ppl think they know whats going on, they know their daily INR, but they don't grasp the whole picture, and it simply is not possible for me to give them an anatomy lesson in 10 minutes.

5. Be PROACTIVE and check in frequently. Consolidate your work. Check with each pt before going down the hall to fetch something. I find that if I check in, ask if anyone needs anything, their anxiety level is decreased and they don't call me all the time because they know I come in when I can.

6. Remember, you can please some people all the time, all ppl some of the time, but you can't please all people, all of the time!


157 Posts

Specializes in Med-Surg, LTC, Rehab.

I work nights now so I don't have to deal with family like I used to. I do see them sometimes between 7p-8:30p and I just tell them what I tell the patient. "Use your call bell if you need anything."

That seems to cut down on the visits to the nursing station for water, ice, juice, etc. Of course, there are some family members that will do that anyway. But it doesn't happen as often.

If they come to me with a request and I have a more urgent matter I just tell them I'll be there shortly and get back to what I'm doing. No explanation about how I have other priorities or that we're short staffed. I get to it when I can and I try to be nice about it the whole time.

The general public doesn't understand nursing priorities. For them it is about blankets, ice and juice. It makes them feel like they have some control over their family member's care if they can take charge of these things.

Now with that said, it doesn't matter if you're a health professional or not. You don't have to understand a nurse's job to understand basic common courtesy and I've seen some rude "customers" in all the jobs I've had over the years.

Specializes in Med/surg, Quality & Risk.
Have been a family member of hospitalized pt and hope the nurses did not think of me that way. Actually, don't think any nurse should think of family members that way.

Key word was "sometimes."


84 Posts

You know, another thing that I did when I was working on the floor a few years ago was to tell the families that they can do x,y and z for their loved one. I set absolute boundaries on what they could and could not do, and provided a few minutes of teaching. This way, the family member feels that they are participating in the care of their loved one (many of them had to learn anyway because the pt was being discharged into the care of the family member). It drives some family members crazy to just sit and do nothing. So I showed them where the ice/water machine was, showed them where the linens were and asked them to please keep track of how much water they were giving my pt. You would not believe how much this helped. I only did this with stable pts who were due to be d/c'd soon.

I think that this is a great suggestion - sometimes the people bugging the nurse don't realize that they can do some of this stuff themselves...and then there are the ones who are the types that don't bag their own groceries in the food lines and wait for everyone else to do it - but who knows you may luck out and get one that WANTS to help :)


22 Posts

I just tell them straight, without being rude. I usually say "I'm just a bit caught up at the moment, but I will definately be with you as soon as I can". Or I say, some of the nurses are involved in a resus at the moment, so we're a bit short on the floor, sorry you've had to wait, but I'll be with you as soon as I can".

We also have a 2 visitor only policy, but we quite often have more at our discression. If they won't stop bugging me, I ask the excess visitors to leave.

If we have problematic family members, we usually request that they select a spokesperson for the family and then refer the remaining 1000's of relatives to that person - it doesn't happen very often though.

I like your answer, but we were never allowed to say we were "short on the floor" . Our boss said it made the facility look bad.

Esme12, ASN, BSN, RN

1 Article; 20,908 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care, ED, Cath lab, CTPAC,Trauma.

This has become an instant gratification society that we live in now. People can get a hold of you no matter what, no matter when. No longer does anyone have to wait until you get home to return their phone call. No longer does anyone mull over how to say something right because of the emotional impact of their statement. I have found that when people leave a message on my land line they are irritated that I don't answer RIGHT away! just because they called. We send tweets or post on facebook the we are "in the car getting coffee" or "starting dinner"......we are instantly able to respond to any situation without forthought to the ramifications of our actions. We are able to bully, berate, or chastize without guilt because esentially we are guilt/feeling free.......we don't have to "face the music" so to speak. We are granted the anonyminity of the electronic page.

The sense of personal space and boundries has been lost in today's society when I can hear intimate details about your personal business and private life in the grocery line. Politeness and sense of privacy has become construed. Patience is becomming a lost art because of instant gratification of technology. The sense of other peoples feelings and how we impact them by our actions or words is lost in a electronic notebook; therefore losing the sense of ramification for our actions or the sense of invading someone's space or where the boundries truely lie.

I am not a prude and I am on facebook but I don't tweet....nor do I stand in the grocery line and air any laundry. I think this lack of sense to one's privacy has definately increased the rudeness of families and lead to their rude demanding and intrusive behavior.

Yup......I'm and "old nurse" remembering the good ole days.......:lol2:


975 Posts

Very well said, Esme!


1 Post

yah thats too...

CrunchRN, ADN, RN

4,514 Posts

Specializes in Clinical Research, Outpt Women's Health.

My chosen method is a strong backhand.......;)

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