6 Tips on Hospital Etiquette

Medically reviewed in January 2021

When your child is in the hospital, it helps to think of the key staff members as new friends who can play a critical role in your child's well-being. They can also magically smooth out bumps and delays that plague less savvy parents and patients. Use these tips to reap strategic benefits:

1. Ask staffers what they do. It's hard to tell who's who based on their clothing—that impressive gentleman in the tie might be there to fix a broken dialysis machine. If you're not sure, just ask. Is the person a resident, intern, doctor, nurse, or nurse's aide? Any staffers who enter your child's room should have an ID badge on and say why they're there. (Refrain from yelling, "Halt! State your business!") By the way, to make sure they have the right patient, staffers should also check your child's ID bracelet.

2. Be extra nice to the nurses. They are the workhorses, and they can make life for you and your child a whole lot easier, whether you need a washcloth, more pain medication, or face time with the doctor. Nurses get the brunt of abuse from angry patients and frustrated family members. Try saying "please," "thank you," and "I appreciate your help." You might be amazed by the attention you get.

3. Be there when the nurses change shifts. Nurses generally work 12-hour shifts, and shift changes are often when mistakes get made in the hospital. Learn who the next nurse on duty is, and personally relay any important information about your child. Yes, the new nurse should read the previous nurse's notes, but don't rely only on that. Remember that the nurse may have more patients to care for than just your child.

4. Know the shortcuts. Get friendly with the resident or intern so you can get quick answers to relatively basic questions. Both should have access to the attending physician and will likely get back to you with an answer in less time than it would take for you to track down the attending physician. Of course, for important questions, ask to see the attending.

5. If an intern explains test results, and you have questions, it's fine to ask a resident, fellow, or attending physician how they interpret the results. Some findings are very clear, such as, "Your test results are normal." But others may require lengthier discussions, so it's always okay to ask.

6. Start every day nudging. Every morning, your first question for the attending physician or resident should be, "What's the specific plan for today?" This can subtly prod them to keep things moving. You don't want to wait 5 days for tests that could be completed in 2.

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