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Behavioral Nursing Interview
Questions

35 Questions and Answers by Kelly Burlison
| Kelly Burlison, MPH, is an experienced professional
with over ten years of experience interviewing in the health care field.

Question 1 of 35

What is the best way to handle a patient who is refusing their medications?

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Behavioral Nursing Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    What is the best way to handle a patient who is refusing their medications?

      Most often, patients have the right to refuse their medication. As difficult as it is to accept their decision, it is their right in most instances to refuse. However, it is your responsibility to assure they are knowledgeable about the medications and possible consequences if they miss a dose or stop taking it altogether. Your job as a nurse is not to convince them to take their medications, but to make certain they understand and are informed as to why the medication is necessary and what may happen if they refuse. If there is anything you can do to aid in educating the patient, be sure to do it. If language is a barrier, an interpreter should be provided. Consider if the patient is confused or if they simply don't understand the need. If they do refuse, your job will then be to document refusal and the rationale for the patient's refusal, as well as your attempt to educate and inform.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I worked with a patient who had just started on an SSRI a couple days prior, and she stated she didn't want to take it because it didn't work, and it was making her nauseated. Being that I understand that it takes at least 4 weeks for this type of medication to work, and sometimes patients experience temporary side effects before the desired effect, I was able to explain that to her in a way she could understand, and she was much more willing to comply."

  2. 2.

    Describe a time where you needed to get crucial information from someone who wasn't helpful or responsive and how you handled that.

      Nurses need information to assess the patient and devise a plan of care. Even the smallest of details may be relevant, and while the nurse needs to be succinct and organized with their queries, they also need to be able to access the necessary information. From patients reluctant to disclose details, to calling to see if someone can open the kitchen and get a late-night tray, a nurse needs to be able to figure out quickly how to get the right information from the right person at the right time. A delay in any information or action may result in less than optimal outcomes, so the nurse needs to communicate clearly, efficiently, assertively, and respectfully to the correct individual. Nursing has been described as both art and science, and the importance of effective communication cannot be underestimated.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I received a late night transfer from the ICU. We were very busy, and the nurses brought the patient down, put her in the room, and told me they called report to the other nurse on the floor. It was close to 11 PM and while I was working a 12-hour shift, I knew the ICU nurses were probably leaving. I called up to the floor and asked to speak with the nurse who was caring for the patient. The unit secretary was brusque and stated that she was leaving, and that I had all the information and orders I needed and I was a nurse and could figure it out. I was upset, but I took a second to compose myself and stated directly and plainly that I needed to speak to the discharging nurse, per protocol and excellent patient care, but if she wasn't available I would speak to the charge nurse. Before I spoke, I worked it out in my head that this was the professional and right request, and I dismissed my initial feelings of annoyance and dismissal. When the nurse answered the phone, she was clearly annoyed. The first thing I did was to acknowledge that I knew it was time for her to leave, and that I really appreciated her coming back to talk with me to provide excellent patient care. Her voice softened and I got a great report. I was really proud of the way I handled myself professionally, and that I advocated for the patient."

  3. 3.

    Describe a time when you did not communicate well, either in writing or verbally. What was the outcome and how did you handle it?

      Great nursing care depends on great communication. It's often said in nursing, 'If it is not written, it wasn't done'. Documenting in the medical record is a legal entry which can be used in court, so learning how to communicate succinctly, correctly, legibly, and timely is extremely important. Oral communication is equally as important and can be muddied with body language, colloquialisms, slang, dialect, accents, and even volume. By definition, effective communication is the process of exchanging knowledge and information in a way that its purpose or intention is understood by the receiver.

      Kelly's Answer

      "When I first became a nurse, I was nervous and probably too chatty and talked way too fast. I remember one patient just looking at me and nodding her head. She was an elderly woman and a little confused at times, and she was saying she didn't like the pink pill. I smiled and chatted over her and just really didn't stop to hear her, and she always took the pink pill so I didn't think anything about it. I was encouraging her to take her pills when her daughter spoke up and said, 'I think the doctor discontinued the Prozac which was the pink pill today!' My patient was trying to tell me something about her pill and because I didn't listen closely, I almost made a medication error!
      I didn't make the error, but I still reported the incident to my nursing supervisor as a near miss. The doctor had just left the room and had not entered the order yet, but I still should have listened to my patient. I apologized to her and her daughter, but I learned an important lesson that day, and that is to talk less and listen more to my patients."

  4. 4.

    Due to emerging technology, the nursing career has evolved, and technology is incorporated in many aspects of modern nursing. How do you handle a situation in which new technology is introduced that changes your nursing practice?

      The interviewer is asking this question to determine how the candidate will respond to changes in their nursing practice due to innovations in technology. Just as technology has changed the way the general public lives, it has significantly changed the practice of medicine and nursing. From Electronic Health Records to electronic instruments, health care does not look the same as it did a few years ago, nevertheless, a few decades ago. If the candidate is unable to adapt to ever-changing technology, they will be unable to effectively care for patients in the modern health care environment. To effectively answer this question, you should be honest about your technical skills, whether they are limited or advanced, and discuss the effort you will put forth to adapt to the new technology. A more successful answer to the question would include an example from your nursing career when you successfully adapted to new technology.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I am not the best at adapting to new technology, so new technologies are always a bit of a challenge for me. However, I am always able to eventually adapt, because I remain determined to learn how to use it. For example, when my last company changed to a new EHR system, it was completely different and extremely hard for me at first. But, instead of giving up, I took extra training, took copious notes, and made help-sheets for myself so I could remember specific shortcuts for how to use the system. This helped me adapt to the system more quickly than most nurses who were having the same challenges as me. If I could help myself get through that difficult situation, I feel that I could get through any challenge with technology."

  5. 5.

    Describe a time you effectively instructed a patient on something they were struggling with learning?

      Patients are often under a great deal of stress. The stress of a new diagnosis, worsening symptoms, and even the hospitalization may make them less attentive to instruction. The nurse must triage the patient's ability to comprehend novel and challenging directions, and factor in any other compounding variables such as cultural differences, pain, medications, and others. Optimal outcomes are achieved when the patient is compliant with treatment and understands what they need to do to be successful. Do your best to explain effective teaching methods here, like teaching through direct instruction or incremental lessons with return demonstrations, utilizing multi-sensory instruction, by providing verbal, written, and physical instructions when applicable.

      Kelly's Answer

      "During my home health rotation, I worked with a patient who said her medications weren't working, but they worked when she was in the hospital and in the rehab center for several weeks after discharge. I asked her to bring all of her medications out to the table, and they were tossed in a cardboard box with old and expired medications with no sense of order. She told me she took them faithfully everyday and never missed one. I looked at the bottles and noticed that they were all ordered on the same day of discharge but several bottles were full and others were almost empty. I asked her if I could help her organize her medications, call the pharmacy to help with automatic refills, and also get her a medication minder. We filled the 2-week minder together and that really helped her take the correct pills. The next visit, she happily reported that her meds were working again."

  6. 6.

    Tell me about a successful team project that you've collaborated on. What was your role?

      Answering this question is an opportunity to showcase that you can work on a team and collaborate with others for good outcomes. Explaining your role and how it came about allows the interviewer to see a different facet of your abilities. A team leader is assigned in most teams. If you are typically the leader, explain what skills you have that allow for effective leadership. If not, you could elaborate on why you were not chosen or why you didn't volunteer. Your answer should illustrate cooperation, collaboration, and a willingness to contribute to add value.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I served on the safety committee when I worked at the nursing home, and it was made up of a team of nurses that represented the different units. We had a team leader who was appointed by the director, but we were all in charge of presenting our individual units' safety concerns and ideas. I learned a ton of new ideas and ways to think about safety when I was on that committee. I think we did great individual work for our unit, but more importantly, great collective work for the nursing home."

  7. 7.

    You are caring for a pediatric patient whose parent is refusing routine vaccinations due to information she has read on the internet. How do you respond in this situation?

      Due to misinformation that is widely available on the internet, many people are refusing routine vaccines for themselves and their children. While the vaccine controversy is likely the most prominent example of patients refusing medical interventions due to misinformation, this issue does not lie in vaccines alone; there are many preventative and tertiary medical procedures that patients refuse. In these cases, it is the responsibility of the nursing staff to help the patient or guardian understand the importance of the recommended medical intervention. The interviewer is asking this question to determine how you would respond to this situation and to see if you would help educate the patient using scientific evidence. To effectively answer this question, you should indicate that you would remain respectful but attempt to educate the patient or guardian using facts. A more successful answer would include an example of how you helped change a patient or guardian's stance so they would accept the medical intervention.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I spent many years as a pediatric nurse, so I have dealt with this exact scenario many times. However, one instance, in particular, stands out to me. In this instance, the mother of a two-year-old patient was refusing all of her child's vaccines because of something she read on the internet about vaccines causing autism. Instead of completely dismissing the parent's concerns, I told her I understood why she was concerned and talked with her about each of her concerns, where I presented facts. Then, I left the mother alone to think about it for a few minutes, and upon my return, she agreed to allow us to administer the vaccines. This is the way I would handle any patient or guardian's concerns about medical interventions--with empathy, understanding, and facts."

  8. 8.

    You have had a friendly relationship with one of your nursing colleagues for quite some time, but recently, she has been demonstrating passive-aggressive behavior and has been unwilling to cooperate with you. Tell me how you respond to this situation.

      Nursing is a career that requires teamwork and cooperation among members of the nursing staff. However, because nursing can be a very stressful occupation and because it requires so much collaboration among team members, conflicts among coworkers often occur. As with many other career settings, if these conflicts are not resolved appropriately, employees cope by using passive-aggressive behaviors. The interviewer is asking this question to understand how you would respond in a situation in which a coworker is demonstrating passive-aggressive behavior. To effectively answer this question, you should indicate that you would calmly and maturely approach the coworker to resolve any underlying conflicts. A more successful answer to this question would include your own experience in resolving a conflict with a colleague.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I have been a nurse for over ten years, and unfortunately, I have dealt with similar situations many times. I find that it is difficult to avoid conflicts when you spend so much time with your colleagues in such a high-stress situation. I would handle this situation similar to the way I responded to the passive-aggressive attitude that I was getting from my co-worker, Vivian, a couple of years ago. Vivian and I had worked together for a couple of years and had a relatively close working relationship. Each morning, she and I would chit-chat about our personal lives before we clocked-in. However, one morning, Vivian's attitude suddenly changed, and she would not engage in conversation. While I didn't think much about it the first day, when she continued to ignore me both in the mornings and while we were on shift, I decided to approach her about it. Instead of being accusatory about her behavior, I approached Vivian and asked her if everything was okay between us. By doing this, I learned that Vivian was upset with me over something that had happened on the floor, and we were able to work it out peacefully."

  9. 9.

    Workplace violence is a common issue for nurses. We have protocols in place to prevent workplace violence, but sometimes patients and family members still become violent. Tell me how you would handle such a situation.

      Unfortunately, nurses and other clinicians are often subjected to violent acts, committed by patients and/or family members. Many times, when patients become violent, it is unintentional and a result of confusion, pain, mental health issues, or other ailments. However, whether the violence is intentional or a result of a medical issue, these situations put nurses in stressful and dangerous situations. In such situations, it is important for nurses to stay calm and follow protocols, such as alerting colleagues and security of the situation. Primarily, it is important that the nurse not attempt to mitigate the situation themselves and/or become defensive and retaliate against the aggressor. To successfully answer this question, you should ensure the interviewer that you would stay calm, follow protocol, and not retaliate against the patient or family member. A more successful answer to this question would include an example of how you followed protocol and effectively dealt with a violent or threatening situation.

      Kelly's Answer

      "In my nursing career, I have been in situations where patients have become violent, but all were due to dementia or confusion, as I have spent a significant amount of time caring for elderly patients. In these situations, I have always followed protocol for de-escalating the situation or using restraints, if appropriate. If I were ever in a situation where a patient or guest was intentionally violent or threatening, I would attempt to de-escalate the situation, and if I were unable to, I would follow protocol, which I hope would include involving management and/or security. Never would I retaliate against a patient or family member, and I would be sure to follow the policy of the company."

  10. 10.

    You are very busy and a bit overwhelmed with your daily tasks, but it is time for your morning team huddle. What do you do?

      The interviewer is asking this question to assess the emphasis the candidate places on the team in which they work. While the candidate may be busy and overwhelmed, it is still important that they attend the 10-minute team huddle to debrief with their team members, unless there is an emergency and they cannot attend the huddle. During the huddle, a couple of things may happen - other team members may be able to help the candidate with their work, or, the candidate may learn that everyone on the team is extremely busy, and they need to redistribute work. To effectively answer this question, you should indicate that you would take time to attend the team huddle, despite being overwhelmed.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I would make sure all my patients were properly cared for and then attend the team huddle. It is my understanding that huddle meetings are very short and are important for team updates, so I would make it a priority to attend. And, if I were so overwhelmed that I felt I was at capacity, a huddle meeting is where I could express my concerns and let it be known that I may need help. I know that nursing can be overwhelming at times, but it is important to remember that we are all part of a team and attending daily huddle meetings is very important."

  11. 11.

    Describe a time you effectively handled a hostile patient or family situation? What was the outcome?

      It is important to always remember that patients and families are under a lot of stress, and there is a difference between an angry patient or family member and a threatening one. It is difficult to handle or deal with patients or families that are frustrated with care, particularly when it is care that you've performed. Handling an emotional situation intelligently is difficult to do, but very worthwhile, as it improves patient outcomes. In general, it's always best to remain in the situation and speak professionally with warmth and authenticity. People begin to heal when they feel heard, and most people begin to lessen intensity when they feel their concerns are being taken seriously. When a patient or family member verbalizes being upset, the best thing to do is to stay in that space and let them begin to tell their story, without interruption or defensiveness, as long as you feel safe. Once you understand a little about what they are concerned about, ask some clarifying questions so that you know how to best elevate the concern or handle it. Pay attention to your body language, stay calm, and look for a win-win situation.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I was working on a medical-surgical floor and a patient had gone to surgery. The patient's family member was waiting in the room. The surgery took longer than expected and crossed shift change. The morning shift left and I was not aware that the patient's family did not know of any updates. I was preparing my medications when I could hear the family member's elevated voice from the room. She was on the phone talking in a panicked voice telling someone that something was terribly wrong. I knocked on the door and asked if I could help her. She asked where her nurse was, and I told her that I was the new nurse. She was terribly upset that the other nurse did not give her an update. I told her that I would call the recovery room for an update and did so, and was instructed that the patient was in recovery and would be there a while. I told the family member, who was visibly relieved. I also ordered a tray from the cafeteria for the family member and took it to her, as she had been worried and waiting all day and she was grateful."

  12. 12.

    Despite our best efforts in providing care, sometimes there are family members who are unhappy with the care the patient is receiving. Tell me how you would handle such a situation.

      Having a family member or loved one who is ill and/or in the hospital can be a very stressful situation, and sometimes, despite the best efforts of clinical staff, family members of patients are unhappy with the care their loved ones receive. In such situations, it is important for nurses and clinical staff to avoid becoming defensive, and to express their empathy for the family member, even if they are unhappy with them. If a nurse is unable to resolve the situation with the patient's family, they should escalate the situation to their supervisor. To successfully answer this question, you should tell the interviewer that you would listen to the family member's concerns and try to meet their needs, if possible. A more successful answer to this question would include an example of how you successfully mitigated such a situation in your nursing career.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I have dealt with many situations like this in my nursing career, and I have found that usually, the family member just needs someone to listen to their concerns and reassure them. I have rarely had situations where I had to escalate the complaint to my supervisor. I actually dealt with such a situation a couple of weeks ago, when I was caring for a pediatric patient who was severely injured in an accident. The patient's family members were beside themselves with worry and grief, and after a couple of days, began to complain about the care they were receiving. I did not take offense to the complaints, but instead, I listened to the family members' concerns and then reassured them that my colleagues and I were doing everything we could, and we would continue to do so. Having this reassurance helped ease the family's concerns, but I think they really just needed to express their frustrations."

  13. 13.

    How would you handle a situation where a new manager or supervisor starts on your unit and immediately starts changing everything about the way the unit has operated for the past few years?

      Similar to other industries, medical facilities often change management or leadership, and new supervisors and managers take over. Oftentimes, new supervisors and managers change various aspects of operations, and it can be difficult for staff members, particularly nurses, to adapt to these changes. However, the most successful nurses are able to thrive in such situations and use these opportunities to improve their practice. The interviewer is asking this question to determine how the candidate will cope with such changes, if a change in unit management takes place. When answering this question, you should be honest about your ability to adapt to change in the workplace. To successfully answer the question, you should also indicate that you would remain positive in such situations. If you have specific examples of how you have successfully adapted to changes in leadership during your nursing career, you should incorporate your personal experience into your answer.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I dealt with this type of situation while I was working as a clinic nurse a few years ago. My department, which I had been working in for quite some time, was suddenly put under the management of a different business line. At first, my colleagues and I did not think there would be much change, but we were very wrong. New supervisors were brought into each unit, and they, along with the new administrator, changed almost everything. The transition was difficult, and very stressful at times, but instead of looking at the situation as a negative, I decided to turn it into a positive and use the experience to become a better nurse. Because of my good attitude, the transition was easier for me, and I was able to become more involved in developing new policies and procedures. If I am ever faced with such changes again, I will take the same positive approach and use the experience as an opportunity to grow."

  14. 14.

    How will you approach coming into a team of nurses who have been working together for quite some time, who have already solidified their working relationships, and who clinically, have a very specific way of doing things?

      Starting a new job can be intimidating, but when a professional is joining a team that is already cohesive, it can be even more challenging. This can sometimes be even more complicated in clinical settings, where teams of nurses or other clinical professionals are so established, and it can be difficult to break into. Members of nursing teams rely on one another in so many ways, which creates significant bonds among team members. Unfortunately, because of this, it can be difficult for new team members to feel welcome and to become a functioning member of the team. The interviewer is asking this question to first make the candidate aware of the situation, and second, determine their approach to becoming part of the team. To successfully answer this question, you should indicate that you would be patient about being welcomed into the team community, but also suggest that you would strive to develop relationships with coworkers to make an effort in becoming a part of the team. A more successful answer would include an example of how the candidate dealt with a similar situation coming into a new team during their nursing career.

      Kelly's Answer

      "This team sounds very similar to the team I was working on when I first joined my department. I had recently moved to the area from across the country and had come from a job as a research nurse, so my joining the team on the inpatient geriatrics unit was quite the change. The nurses on the team were not very welcoming to me, as they felt I did not belong on their team, where everyone had been there for at least two years, but most of them for more than five. It was difficult for me, but I knew it wasn't impossible to eventually become a functional member of the team. As my colleagues did their best to ignore me at first, I didn't take it personally, but did my best to be courteous and friendly to them, and eventually, they started letting me in. Before long, I was welcomed into their group, and I immediately began trying to loosen the culture so that the team wasn't so unwelcoming to other newcomers."

  15. 15.

    Nursing can be extremely stressful. What do you think your personality strengths are in regards to handling the stress of nursing?

      Nurses experience long, demanding, and sometimes exhausting shifts. Interviewers ask questions that allow the prospective job candidate to showcase their emotional and personality strengths. The interviewer is seeking a candidate with honesty, candor, and emotional and psychological resilience. The interviewer is not looking for a smooth and polished answer, but rather an authentic answer that is unique to the candidate and illustrates their best qualities.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I am easy going, but I'm not a pushover. I work well on a team, but I make up my own mind about things. I think that's important because I must work within the constraints of my nursing license. I am very inquisitive and asks lots of questions, which makes me a better nurse, I think!"

  16. 16.

    What do you do when one of your patients takes unexpected additional time to provide quality care and you have other patients waiting?

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  17. 17.

    You are a floor nurse in your unit and have close relationships with several of your colleagues. When your supervisor goes on vacation, she appoints you to be in charge. How do you approach supervising the nursing staff in your unit?

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  18. 18.

    Your patient’s family brought too many boxes of candy, and the patient wants you to take the unopened one. How do you handle this scenario?

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  19. 19.

    How do you prioritize tasks when things on the unit get unexpectedly fast moving?

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  20. 20.

    Tell me about a time where you developed empathy by stepping into a patient's shoes?

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  21. 21.

    Explain your decision making process when you are challenged with a novel or challenging situation in nursing.

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  22. 22.

    Describe a time you set a goal for yourself and achieved it. What did you do to ensure that you met your goal?

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  23. 23.

    Describe a time you set a goal and did not achieve it. Explain why you were not successful.

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  24. 24.

    Would you call yourself a team player? How do you handle yourself when you disagree with the team consensus on how to handle a situation?

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  25. 25.

    Tell me about a time in your nursing career when you made a big mistake. How did you handle the situation?

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  26. 26.

    Tell me how you would handle a situation where you thought you saw one of your nursing colleagues pocketing a dose of medication that was supposed to be given to a patient.

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  27. 27.

    You are caring for a patient nearing the end of their life who has a clear Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order in their advanced directive, but when the patient codes, their family member who is present begs you to take action. How do you respond?

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  28. 28.

    Tell me how you would handle a situation in which you are pressed for time and it would be easier for you to provide care to your patients if you did not follow established procedures and protocols.

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  29. 29.

    How would you handle a situation where you were curious about what was documented in a friend or family member's electronic health record?

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  30. 30.

    What would you do in a situation where you needed household medical supplies, such as adhesive bandages, and you were aware that there was an abundance of them in the supply room at work?

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  31. 31.

    Often in Electronic Health Records, generic drug names are used in lieu of brand names. Tell me how you would handle a situation where you know the brand name of a drug you need to place an order for, but you are unsure of its generic name.

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  32. 32.

    As clinical healthcare professionals, we have all been in situations where we have developed special bonds with patients and their families. Explain how you handle such situations when these patients face difficult diagnoses or unexpectedly pass away.

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  33. 33.

    Tell me how you would handle a situation where you feel a patient is suicidal or a danger to themselves, but they deny these feelings.

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  34. 34.

    You are in a situation where you have been putting forth a lot of effort at your nursing job, but you received critical feedback from your supervisor during a bi-annual review. How do you respond to this situation?

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  35. 35.

    Many times, we require our nurses to cross-train in other departments so they can be available to float when needed. How do you feel about the potential of cross-training and floating on short notice?

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