Teamwork in Nursing: How to Be a Key Contributor in Your Unit

Teamwork in Nursing

Nurses are employed to care for sick or wounded patients. But when nurses band together for the good of their patients, their care is twice as effective.

Whether you’re on a care team made up multiple types of healthcare experts, like a nutritionist or a physical therapy specialist, or you’re working with a team of nurses to care for an entire unit, teamwork is essential to getting the job done right and improving patients’ health.

Whether you’re about to enter the field or are currently working in it, it’s important to understand the importance of teamwork in nursing. Keep reading to learn why it’s essential and how you can be a top-notch team player.

Why is teamwork in nursing so important?

“Healthcare is a complex entity, requiring the coordination of multiple talented individuals to provide high-quality care,” says Susan Alexander, a nurse practitioner at Riverside Family Health in Alabama. She explains that high functioning teams not only provide better support for patients, but also for each other during times of stress.

A typical nursing team is made up of registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nursing assistants (NAs) and unit secretaries (USs). When all working together, this quintessential model of nursing will help prevent errors from occurring and help nurses reach their goal of providing optimal healthcare.

So how can you be an MVP in your nursing unit and contribute your very best to the group? Read on for tips on how to be a valuable asset to your nursing team!

How to be a valuable contributor to teamwork in nursing

There’s no arguing that working together is the best way to care for your patients. So what can you do to ensure you’re a valuable asset to your nursing team? Here are a few tips from the experts.

1. Keep communicating

Communication is paramount when working with a team of nurses. If one nurse is handing off a patient to another nurse at the end of a shift, it’s critical that every single detail be clearly communicated. If something is missed about a medication or a symptom, a life could be in danger.

Making sure you’re verbally communicating with doctors and the other members on your team, as well as communicating via your charts and notes, can help limit misunderstandings and conflict. It can also assist a team in making sure that no one nurse is completely overwhelmed with a workload or left alone to deal with an urgent patient situation that requires more than one person.

“Don't be afraid to ask for what you need,” says Sydney Liesch, a former RN on the cardiac floor at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. She explains that speaking up right away will be better for the patient and for you. She’s experienced nursing teams with good camaraderie and support, making it much easier to communicate effectively.

2. Be adaptable

Picture this: You’re assigned five patients one evening, but a fellow nurse seems to be really struggling with her load of six patients. Practicing adaptability allows nurses to be flexible and give and take when necessary. In this situation, you could volunteer to step in and split the duties to assist your team member.

“[If you] have even a minute of spare time, ask a coworker if they need help,” says Kelsey Gamache, RN at Providence Place Nursing Home. “The smallest things go a long way on a busy day.”

"The smallest things go a long way on a busy day."

If a nursing assistant or other team member calls in sick and the team isn’t able to find a replacement, it’s essential that a well-functioning nursing team is able adjust and fill in where needed. The day in the life of a nurse is unpredictable as it is, so you should always be prepared for plans to change.

“You may feel that you are already pulling ‘your weight’ taking care of our own patients and wonder why you should help with someone else's patients,” says Cara Noren, an RN at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “But think of each patient as your grandpa, daughter, or spouse. You wouldn't want them to have less than the best care just because their nurse is busy.” Eagerly helping out with another nurse’s patient is the best way to make sure everyone’s loved one is taken care of, she adds.

3. Know the plan & stick with it

It’s important that all members of the nursing team know what the plan is for different situations and that they stick to it. The courses you complete in your nursing degree program will introduce you to many of the basic processes and procedures, but it’s important to connect with your nursing manager and the rest of your team about protocol should something damaging or life threatening occur.

“When emergencies happen, you want to know your role and be able to perform it without hesitation,” Noren says. “A well-oiled team will be able to give the patient the quality care they deserve.”

4. Get to know your team members

Trustworthiness is essential in the world of nursing, and the best way to grow trust is to get to be comfortable with one another. There are plenty of jobs out there where you can just put your head down, focus on your work and ignore everyone else – but nursing isn’t one of them! It’s crucial to build relationships and understand how each member of the team functions.

 “Communicate with your aids,” Gamache says. “They know a lot, are able to do a lot and are there to help you. Make sure to understand their abilities and limits medically.”

While it might be tempting to eat your meals on your own or keep to yourself during your shifts, socializing with the rest of the team can go a long way in building rapport. If you’re communicating with one of the NAs and grow to understand his or her personality better, this can help you step in and help out in a way that someone oblivious to the particulars of the situation wouldn’t be able to.

Ready to join the team?

RNs are talented professionals and their role on a healthcare team is irreplaceable. On their own, they’re intelligent, compassionate and reliable. But these abilities are amplified when they band together and work as a team.

Sharon Gauthier, a seasoned emergency nurse and president of Patient Advocate for You, says there’s no better sight as a manager than to watch a well-orchestrated team all playing their roles and working together in a timely fashion to save a patient’s life.

Teamwork in nursing is a pillar of the profession. Now that you have some tips for improving your collaboration abilities, learn about another crucial skill: Understanding Why Nurses Need Critical Thinking Skills.


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Lauren is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys helping current and potential students choose the path that helps them achieve their educational goals.

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