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Best Nurses Guide For Calling Docs

All nurses can get hung up on calling doctors – new nurses and seasoned nurses alike. Pun intended! Maybe you’ve been there. Calling a physician, especially at night, can be intimidating. For inexperienced nurses, it is downright nerve-racking. Even veteran nurses cringe at the thought of calling certain doctors.

The fact is, nurses spend a lot of time with their patients—in some cases even more than the doctor does. They are the ones who get to know their patients intimately. As a nurse, it is your job to call when necessary. And you should feel good about advocating for your patients! Nurse-physician communication is an important part of patient care, and it’s your job to learn the best practices.

I’m here to tell you it gets easier with experience. With this nurse’s guide and a little practice, you’ll soon feel comfortable calling doctors, even at night.

  • The 3 Steps to Calling the Doctor
  • Tips for Hassle-Free Doctor Calls



The 3 Steps to Calling the Doctor

Time to call the doctor? Here are three steps to make it easier for everyone involved.

Prepare for the report.

When you get ready to call the doctor, ensure you have access to information they might need. Recent lab results, vital signs, and medication profiles are essential. Be able to tell the doctor what trends you notice and how the patient is behaving. When the doctor has questions, you want to have the answers.

Make the call.

Now that you’ve, it’s time to call the doctor. A Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation (SBAR) report for nurse-physician communication works well.

  1. Start by explaining the situation or reason for your call.
  2. Next, give the doctor a brief background on the patient to jog their memory.
  3. Then tell the doctor your assessment and what cues you see, hear, or feel.
  4. Finally, offer a recommendation based on the patient’s condition.

You may not know what to do, which is why you are calling the doctor. That’s fine. But if you have the next step in mind, tell the doctor what you think you should do or what orders you would like.

Avoid apologizing for the call.

As a nurse, your job is to advocate for your patient—don’t apologize for that! You are responsible for making a call, speaking up, or even challenging a provider when a situation is unsafe, or you don’t get the response you need. Trust your gut. Better safe than sorry. When in doubt, make the call.

Tips for Hassle-free Doctor Calls

Here are some tips that require a bit of critical thinking and foresight but can help save you headaches later.

Cluster your calls.

Remember that other nurses might be phoning the physician too. Before you call, ask around to see if anyone else in the unit needs to speak to the doctor. If so, team up and cluster your calls.

Call at the right time.

Does the call need to be made now? If yes, then make it. In some cases though, it might be better to wait. If you have a question at 0330 but your patient doesn’t need immediate care, wait until 0500 when the doctor is probably awake. In the same vein, if you’re worried about a patient at 2100, it might be better to call now rather than wait until further decline when the doctor might be asleep.

Ask for help.

Charge nurses and more experienced peers can be a tremendous help to you. For instance, they might give you advice on interventions. Or they may provide a second set of eyes on your patient when you sense something is wrong but can’t put your finger on it. Bonus, you will have someone to talk to if the doctor gets short with you for calling. Always involve your charge nurse or follow your chain of command when situations get too difficult for you to handle alone.


In short, contacting the physician should not be a problem when your patient declines or a situation turns urgent. You can command the situation and make the call productive using your nursing judgment, critical thinking, and preparation. Using this guide can help you gain the respect of colleagues and promote positive outcomes.

You’ve got this.


Impact of the communication and patient hand-off tool SBAR on patient safety”. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed April 30, 2022.


Sarah Falcone BSN, RN

Sarah Falcone BSN, RN


Sarah S. Falcone BSN, RN is a dedicated nurse based in Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX. Her first nursing gig, was night-shift floor nurse in women's services (PP, L&D, nursery). Through a series of fortunate events, she found home health and a passion for helping seniors age in place. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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