Building Trust: The Nurse-Patient Relationship Explained

holding hands

Interactions with healthcare providers can make or break the faith that a patient has in the healthcare system. The trust that patients have in medical professionals has taken a hit since the pandemic, so now it is more crucial than ever that patients feel that the nurses caring for them and their health have their best interests at heart.

Why trust is so important between nurses and patients

For nurses who see countless patients per day, a 10-minute interaction with a patient may not seem quite as significant as it does to the patient. Medical appointments and hospital stays can be intimidating. In addition to having concerns about their health, they’re being asked to disclose some pretty private information about themselves, usually to people who speak medicalese.

It is unsurprising that positive interactions with nurses and other medical staff have been linked to more positive outcomes for patients, leaving them feeling empowered and heard. After all, the main reason that many nurses choose this field is because they are driven by empathy and care.

How to build trust with your patients

Healthcare degrees like a Graduate Certificate in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing can teach you many important skills. Your education years equip you with practical medical knowledge and the skills to help you be the best nurse you can be. However, some skills seem to be innate. They cannot be taught by any teacher, although they can be refined and improved upon. These skills include the foundations for trust-building: vulnerability, honesty, empathy and communication.

Chances are, you already have these skills. Most of us do, although some more than others. You can improve them (and improve the bond with your patients) by keeping the following things in mind:


When it comes to healthcare, you probably know your stuff. After all, you studied hard and you spend every day treating people. But your patient does not necessarily know this. Show them that you are competent, professional and capable. After all, you’ve been entrusted with keeping them safe.

However, don’t show your knowledge by speaking in a way that they cannot understand. It’s easy to divert into medicalese, but that doesn’t make your patient feel safe and comfortable- it more than likely confuses or overwhelms them. Break it down in a way they will understand.


Everybody wants to be treated with dignity. Show your patients respect and understanding, even if they lead a very different life from the one you’re accustomed to and don’t allow your personal bias to get in the way of their autonomy.


Honesty is one of the most important aspects in trust-building. Your patients deserve to know what is happening to them and give them choices. Lying to protect their feelings may seem empathetic, but is quite unethical and can build false hope.


In addition to being able to explain their condition and treatment options in a way they can understand, communication means keeping the patient updated. Being in a hospital can be overwhelming enough, but when a nurse starts poking and prodding you without warning, it can feel downright violating. 

Communication is also about listening. Hear them and their concerns, take their wishes into account, and make sure they are utterly satisfied with the care they have received. A doctor visit or hospital stay can feel a lot less scary when you have a rapport with someone who ensures that you are understood and well-informed.


You know all the rules when it comes to confidentiality in healthcare – but do your patients know? Make sure you let your patient know that their medical records are kept private. The last thing you want is for a patient to withhold information or avoid asking an embarrassing question out of fear that others will find out.

Make decisions together

Sharing the decision making process with the patient is important- after all, it is their body that you’re making decisions about. Of course, the decision-making must be within reason. Certain requests cannot be fulfilled, mainly due to legal reasons. However, let your patient know all of their options and reinforce that they have autonomy. 

Navigating the healthcare system can be tricky, and having someone else make decisions regarding your care can be scary. Giving the patient options and freedom can make a world of difference to their sense of empowerment and the trust that they have in you and in the healthcare system in general.