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Situational Nursing Interview
Questions

42 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 42

Your coworker forgot to sign off that she gave Tylenol as a PRN before she punched out and calls you from the car. She asks you to initial that it was given so nobody gives it again. What do you do?

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Situational Nursing Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    Your coworker forgot to sign off that she gave Tylenol as a PRN before she punched out and calls you from the car. She asks you to initial that it was given so nobody gives it again. What do you do?

      It sounds like the right thing to do. After all, you don't want the patient to be given extra Tylenol, but you should never do this. It's illegal and forging the medical record. It's unethical and risks your nursing license. The correct thing to do is to write down the information about the dose and attach a sticky note to the MAR so that there is a visual reminder for the person administering medications. This information should be reported to the shift nurse manager and guidance received. Under no circumstances should the nurse sign off a medication that he or she did not administer.

      Kelly's Answer

      "Sally, I'm sorry, but I'm not comfortable doing that. Thank you so much for calling and letting me know. I put a sticky note on the chart to remind myself of the time you gave the Tylenol and let Ruthann know, so we can follow her guidance. Call Ruthann tomorrow to figure out what you need to do about not signing that. Have a good night and drive safely!"

  2. 2.

    How would you handle someone asking you for medical advice or diagnosis validation outside the workplace?

      This is a difficult challenge for nurses who know things and also have a compelling need to serve others. It's easy and ego-boosting to become the resident 'expert', but that can backfire. There is a reason why when people call the ER for advice, the standard answer is to present for an evaluation and advice isn't given over the phone. We live in a litigious society, and you worked hard for your license. Protect it just as hard. What may seem to be benign advice to your neighbor may result in catastrophic consequences. Also, it is best to give advice that points people in the direction of great care, such as writing down all symptoms.

      Kelly's Answer

      "Mrs. Lokley...I'm so sorry you're not feeling well. Do you need me to help call and schedule the earliest appointment with your PCP? Do you have a little notebook where you can write down all your symptoms? Sometimes people get overwhelmed at the doctor's and forget to tell them important things. I could help you write out your medication list to take to the PCP. Come, let's make that call now and get you an appointment. You seem very worried, so it's wise to be seen."

  3. 3.

    You are caring for a patient and the physician has ordered an IV medication for them. You have collected the medication and the supplies needed to administer the IV. Tell me how you will proceed from this point.

      Before starting an IV and administering the medication, in this situation, the nurse should look in the patient's electronic health record and review the physician's medication order to verify they have the correct medication, dosage, and administration duration. This is a safety protocol that is standard in nursing practice to prevent medical errors, as administering the incorrect medication, incorrect dosage, and/or incorrect duration can have dire consequences to the patient. The interviewer is asking this question to assess the candidate's understanding and regular practice for such precautions. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate that they would verify the medication, dosage, and administration duration by reviewing the order in the electronic health record. A more successful answer to this question could include examples of how the candidate prevented a colleague from committing a medical error by reminding them to review this information, helped develop training materials on the matter for their unit, or even helped change protocols to improve compliance and patient outcomes.

      Kelly's Answer

      "Before I did anything to the patient, I would go to the patient's electronic record and verify the drug name, the dosage, and the administration duration. This is so important because so many times, nurses are busy or get distracted and accidentally grab the wrong medication, dosage, or set the incorrect administration duration. A couple of years ago, we had several new nursing graduates working on my unit, and we had several medical errors related to this issue take place. Because I am so passionate about this issue, I helped my supervisor develop training materials to help remind my colleagues to verify these medication elements before they administer IV drugs. While these materials did not eliminate medication errors, they helped reduce them."

  4. 4.

    You are nearing the end of your 12-hour shift on your inpatient unit and you are exhausted from caring for eight high-acuity patients. As your colleague arrives to relieve you, tell me how you proceed.

      When inter-shift information is involved, nurses must ensure that they properly handover information to their colleagues properly, even if this means they stay late to complete handover paperwork on each of their patients. Failing to properly handover information to the next nurse could have dire consequences to patients, making handovers a vital element of a nurse's set of responsibilities. Many facilities have standardized handover templates for nurses to complete before the end of their shifts, and these templates include elements such as: background, assessments, vitals, and recommendations. While many electronic health record systems pre-populate much of this information, it is imperative the remaining information is completed. The interviewer is asking this question to determine if the candidate understands the importance of completing handovers. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate they would ensure handover information for all patients was completed before departing for the day. A more successful answer to this question would include an example from the candidate's nursing career where they ensured their handovers were completed despite being exhausted or dealing with other confounding factors.

      Kelly's Answer

      "In this situation, even though I am exhausted, I would complete handover templates for all my patients, if I haven't already. This is especially true because you said the eight patients are high-acuity, which means there is a lot the next nurse needs to know about them. I could never leave my patients without completing handovers, because not only could I not leave my coworker in a bad situation, but I also don't want to put my patients at risk. Last week, I was in a similar situation, where I had been so busy that I didn't have time to complete handovers until my coworker arrived to relieve me. So, I stayed late and completed the templates for all my patients, despite the fact that I was tired and ready to go home."

  5. 5.

    You are caring for a patient on your unit who is now resting well but has tried to get up and fallen multiple times over the past couple of days. As you prepare to leave the patient's room, do you restrain her to prevent her from falling again?

      While it may seem like the most rationale step to take in this situation would be to restrain the patient, only current behavior should determine whether a patient should be restrained. The use of restraints can have physical and psychological consequences for the patient, so it is important that nurses and other medical professionals be very careful with their use. In this situation, since the patient is resting well and not agitated, the nurse should avoid using restraints. The interviewer is asking this question to determine if the candidate understands that restraints should be used judiciously, and to effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate they would not restrain the patient in this situation. A more successful answer this question would include an example from the candidate's nursing career where they chose not to restrain a patient based on current behavior, despite previous history of falls, violence, and/or intentional or unintentional self-harm.

      Kelly's Answer

      "Since I have been an inpatient nurse for many years, I have dealt with these types of situations many times, and in this situation, I would not restrain the patient. Even though the patient has fallen since she has been admitted, if she is currently resting well and isn't agitated, I would not restrain her. Restraints are very difficult for patients, and I will not use them unless it is absolutely necessary. This reminds me of a patient who I was caring for recently who had been violent and restrained while in the ICU, but when he was transferred to my unit, he was much calmer. The nurse who cared for him the shift prior to mine had kept him restrained, as she was fearful of him, but the patient was now much more lucid and the restraints were stressful to him. Once I took the handoff, I immediately removed the restraints from the patient, and from then on, he was able to relax."

  6. 6.

    In your inpatient unit, you are caring for a patient who is still weak from surgery. Upon reviewing physician orders, you see the patient is to get up and walk two laps in the hall. Tell me how you would proceed.

      The interviewer is attempting to determine if the candidate would assess the patient's ability to participate in physical activity before getting her up to walk around the hall of the inpatient unit. Patient falls is one of the biggest patient safety concerns for hospitals, and it is the onus of the nursing staff to ensure they protect their patients from falls in all situations, even when there is a physician order stating otherwise. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate that they would assess the patient's ability to participate in the physical activity, and if they, in fact, the patient was too weak, they would contact the physician for alternative orders. A more successful answer to this question would include a specific example from the candidate's nursing career where they prevented a patient fall by assessing their ability to participate in physical activity.

      Kelly's Answer

      "If the patient was still weak from their surgical procedure, I would assess their ability to get up and walk, to ensure they are not at risk for a fall. This is something I deal with often at my current job as an inpatient nurse. Just recently, I was caring for a patient who had been admitted for a serious infection. When the patient seemed to be getting better, the physician ordered that he get up and walk, and he did well the first couple of days. However, on the third day, he was feeling worse, and when it was time for his walk, instead of just getting him up, I assessed his condition and found that getting him up for a walk would put him at risk. Upon calling the physician and updating him on the patient's condition, he came to check on him, and found that the patient needed emergency surgery as the infection had returned. Not only did my diligence prevent the patient from becoming injured, it also helped alert the physician of an emergent issue."

  7. 7.

    You are assisting a physician perform a procedure, when you are asked to retrieve a bottle of acetic acid that can be used on the patient. After retrieving the bottle from its normal location, what do you do you do before passing it to the physician?

      The interviewer is asking this question to determine if the candidate would verify that they retrieved the correct chemical before passing it to the physician. This confirmation is important, as the nurse may have accidentally retrieved the incorrect bottle or a bottle containing a different chemical may have been in the place where the requested chemical was typically kept. If either of these were the case, and the incorrect chemical was passed to the physician and used on the patient, significant consequences could occur. Simply verifying that the correct chemical is being passed to the physician could help avoid a serious medical error. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate that they would verify that they have the correct chemical by checking the label on the bottle. A more successful answer to this question would include a specific example from the candidate's nursing career where they avoided a medical error by verifying the name of a chemical or drug that was to be administered to a patient.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I know exactly what I would do in this situation, as I have been in a situation almost identical to this. Before handing the bottle to the physician, I would read details on the label to verify that I am handing them what they requested. This is similar to a situation I was in a few years ago, while I was working in an oncology office and was assisting a physician with a colposcopy, which requires acetic acid. During the procedure, I went and grabbed the bottle, which I assumed was acetic acid, from where it was normally stored on the shelf; but when I checked the label, I found that it was sulfuric acid, which would have burned the patient if applied. Someone had placed the sulfuric acid in the incorrect location, but since I verified I had the correct chemical, I avoided a medical error."

  8. 8.

    How would you handle a coworker who is habitually late, which causes you to leave work late?

      This is a management and leadership issue which impacts other staff members' lives and team morale. However, it's worth taking the opportunity to address it with the coworker individually before elevating it to leadership. There is something happening if leadership is not addressing it, as they would be alerted if they were chronically punching or signing in late. It may be that the time clock is a distance walk to the unit, or they stop at the cafeteria on the way for coffee and the result is they are late for their shift. It is not helpful to be passive-aggressive and complain to other staff members. Learn to have the uncomfortable conversation directly, kindly, and professionally with the person or people that need to hear it.

      Kelly's Answer

      "Laine, can I speak to you privately for a minute? Is something going on? I am a little concerned. This is the third time this week you have been at least 10 minutes late, and it's really affecting me, as I have to leave to get my kids on the bus. I've not mentioned this to leadership. I wanted to talk to you first and ask you to be here on time to relieve me. Will you please do that? I would appreciate that very much."

  9. 9.

    If you have too many things on your to-do list, how to you decide which to do first and which to postpone?

      A nurse shift is usually a very busy one, with few unimportant tasks. Taking the time to organize and frontload your day by doing the most important patient tasks first helps free up time later. Sometimes, it is helpful to delegate to others when possible, but it's never an acceptable answer if anything patient-care related is not done because there wasn't time. Future pace your day and sketch out a timeline for each activity. When you follow your plan and you realize at 10 AM that you are still dealing with some problems with your 8 AM task, then the best time to ask for support or help is at 10 AM. At 2 PM, it's too late to gather support and finish the shift completely and correctly.

      Kelly's Answer

      "At work, I take a couple minutes to sketch out my day and I frontload the more important and difficult tasks in the morning, so I can complete them well. That gives me time to work through the rest of my shift, and if I end up having to ask for help, then the tasks that still need to get done are not the most difficult or important ones. In my personal life, when my to-do list gets too large, I sit down, weed it out, and focus on what moves my life forward and brings meaning and value."

  10. 10.

    How do you handle being asked to do a nursing task you've never completed before?

      Most situational interview questions are best answered using the STAR method which involves thinking about the situation, task, action and result and providing solid and thorough answers. This is not the time to say that you would jump in with both feet. The interviewer is not looking for someone who just jumps when someone says jump, but someone willing to jump with confidence and competence. Your job is to provide an answer that illustrates this difference.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I really want to be liked and be a contributing member of the team, but I always stop and do a check-in before enthusiastically saying I'll do something I'm not sure about! I know the basics of nursing skills, so if I can look it up in the policy and procedure manual, such as a simple but different dressing change, I am able to do that independently. If it's totally novel, I will ask for supervision when first performing it so that I always work within the scope of my nursing practice."

  11. 11.

    What are some action steps you could take to alleviate stress in patients in an ER waiting room?

      Emergency room waiting rooms are stressful places. After all, everyone in that waiting area is experiencing some kind of emergency and many of them feel their need is just important as anyone else's. Time slows down when someone is frightened, sick, or in pain, so even the shortest wait can get tempers flaring. People who are sick do not have an expansive world view but naturally are narrowly focused on their situation. They may have no ideas of the car crash victims arriving via ambulances through the back but only know that they are waiting. There are a limited number of things that you can do to shorten the wait, but you can humanize the experience by letting them know that they are seen and valued. When they come in, explain the wait time because knowledge is power. Check in with them every so often. Remind the individuals who accompany them where the cafeteria is. There really is nothing you can do to lessen their wait, but you can reduce their frustration by acknowledging their wait time and providing information in a friendly and respectful manner.

      Kelly's Answer

      "Although it's difficult to face angry and frustrated people, I think it's important to lean in and acknowledge their frustration and give them updates. They are in the ER, so nurses should be checking on them; even just a little bit goes a long way. It is good nursing. I also think it's important to let them know where the comfort stations and cafeteria are located."

  12. 12.

    How would you handle a patient who is trying to manipulate you in some way or talks about the other shift to you?

      This answer appears easy ,but it's not. Being a new nurse sometimes makes people over eager to please and hearing great things about yourself rarely falls on unappreciative ears. You want to help and be sympathetic, but it's not helpful to engage in any conversation that downgrades your coworkers in any way. Sometimes these conversations are subtle and sometimes they are not. The easiest way to circumvent these situations is to enter each room prepared and with a plan for the visit or encounter and perform that task in a professional and kind manner. If the patient begins to complain about another individual, handle it by stating that you're sorry they had the experience and ask if they'd like for you to get the nursing manager to speak to.

      Kelly's Answer

      "If a patient starts to tell me something, I listen briefly and ask if she would like for me to get my nursing leader. I don't want to shut the patient down if she really had a bad experience, but I don't want to feed into it either and damage their view of my coworker. The best thing I can think of is to hear them out briefly but not agree. I'd say that I'm sorry they had the experience and ask if they would like me to get nursing leadership. Now if it's something horrible, of course I would report it directly, if it was a medical concern. It depends on the situation, but I know not to simply be silent because silence implies consent sometimes, so I would feel the need to say that I hear them, but I'm not the person who has the power to take action on that concern."

  13. 13.

    During your shift in the ER, a patient presents with bruising from a fall. Her male companion answers questions for her, and she barely gives eye contact. What do you do in this situation to get the patient to answer independently?

      Sometimes a domestic abuse victim's only connection to help might be a trip to the ER or urgent care. All patients should be screened for abuse whether man, woman, or child. A nurse needs to know the warning signs and learn how to assess and ask effective questions. The nurse needs to learn how to optimize the interview and assessment so that the patient (man, woman, or child) can express themselves in a safe space. In the above scenario, the nurse needs to separate the woman safely from the man, so that she can ask if the woman feels safe and assess her for abuse.
      It may be difficult to separate the individual from the companion, but it's best they be separated, as the potential abuse victim may not speak openly in front of the abuser.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I would need to separate the potential abuse victim from the abuser, though I understand that it may be difficult. I could ask him to leave the room for the assessment and if he balked, I would probably take her to the bathroom for a urine sample to ask her questions. I would be careful not to judge or prejudge the situation, but I would do what I needed to do to assess the potential abuse victim thoroughly. I definitely would seek guidance from my shift leadership."

  14. 14.

    You are conducting intake on a patient who was just seen at your facility earlier in the week. After you enter the patient's vital signs, you see their medication list, which was updated earlier in the week. Tell me how you proceed.

      Because patient medications can change very quickly, even over a few days, it is important that nurses verify current medications for every patient at the beginning of every patient visit. If a patient's medication list is not verified and accurately updated, they are at risk of being prescribed a new medication that could interfere with one they are taking. If the nurse does not verify and update the patient medication list, the prescribing provider will not be aware of undocumented medications and will not be able to avoid prescribing errors. The interviewer is asking this question to assess whether or not the candidate understands that medication must be reviewed and verified with the patient or a caregiver during each encounter. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate that they would review and verify the medications with the patient. A more successful answer to this question could include an example of how the candidate has dealt with a similar situation in the past, learned from a mistake that was made because they did not verify the medication, or spearheaded a policy change at their facility to ensure medications are verified during each patient visit.

      Kelly's Answer

      "I would review and verify the patient's medication with them again, even though they were just seen in the facility a few days prior. It is too risky to assume that the patient's medications have not changed, as the provider may prescribe a medication that interferes with something the patient is taking that is not documented. Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way early in my career. It was a similar situation, where a patient had just been seen a few days earlier, and I assumed their medication list was the same, so I did not ask about it. The next day, I learned that the patient had a bad reaction due to a medication interaction from something they were taking that wasn't documented and a new medication that was prescribed by the doctor during the appointment the previous day. Luckily, the patient was okay, but after this happened, failing to verify medications was a mistake I only had to make once."

  15. 15.

    You just finished preparing IV medications for a patient, and you thoroughly washed your hands before doing so. As you enter the patient's room with the medication, describe the first thing you do to prevent patient infection.

      While hospitalized or receiving outpatient medical treatment, patients are at significant risk of picking up an infection as a consequence of the care they are receiving. Although infection prevention measures in the healthcare industry have greatly improved over the years, the risk still exists and healthcare professionals must be vigilant in order to prevent healthcare-acquired infections. Although it may seem obvious, the simple task of handwashing is the first step in infection prevention. The interviewer is asking this question to determine if the candidate understands the importance of handwashing and is in the habit of washing their hands upon entering a patient's room and/or before administering IV medication. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should explain that the first step they would take to prevent infection would be to wash their hands thoroughly. A more successful answer to this question would include an example of how the candidate has helped train colleagues on handwashing in such situations and/or assisted in the development and implementation of handwashing policies for their nursing unit.

      Kelly's Answer

      "The first thing I would do to prevent the patient from getting an infection is to wash my hands. There are other actions I would need to take in preventing infection, but handwashing is primary. I have always been an advocate of handwashing, even when many of my colleagues were not. When I found out that my nursing and care partner colleagues on my unit were not following handwashing protocols last year, I worked with my supervisor to develop a training on the importance of proper handwashing, handwashing technique, and infection prevention. After this training, handwashing compliance on my unit improved greatly, and the infection control nurse attributed it to a reduction in secondary infections."

  16. 16.

    We are work with difficult and uncooperative coworkers, at times. How do you handle uncooperative coworkers?

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  17. 17.

    How do you handle difficult family members who disagree with the care that the patient agreed to?

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  18. 18.

    You are alone in an elevator with two nurses from another floor who are talking about a patient. How would you respond?

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  19. 19.

    How would you change your communication style if the patient's family was having trouble understanding what you were trying to tell them?

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  20. 20.

    How do you handle situations in which you disagree with a doctor's orders?

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  21. 21.

    How do you handle ethical or philosophical differences with a patient?

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  22. 22.

    How would you handle a patient that assumes a 'helpless' role, does not do what is necessary for their treatment, and asks you to do certain tasks that they could and should perform for themselves?

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  23. 23.

    How would you explain a complex task to someone using verbal instructions?

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  24. 24.

    Describe a situation where it may be appropriate to use humor in the workplace.

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  25. 25.

    Give an example of how you may connect and find common ground with a patient to gain understanding.

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  26. 26.

    How would you handle a situation in which nursing leadership were to reject an idea you pitched to streamline your job?

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  27. 27.

    What kinds of review questions do you ask yourself after dealing with a difficult and challenging patient situation?

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  28. 28.

    A coworker left her computer open with sensitive information on the screen. You are the only one in the nurses' station. How would you address this with her?

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  29. 29.

    You are preparing medication in your unit's med room when you are paged to the nurse's station. You plan to immediately return to the med room, which you can see from the nurse's station. Do you lock the door upon leaving the med room?

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  30. 30.

    You are caring for a patient on your inpatient unit who is bedridden and unconscious. When the patient came to you, they already had a bedsore. How do you prevent this from happening again?

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  31. 31.

    You are caring for a patient on your inpatient unit who is taking a turn for the worse. You decide you need to call the hospitalist physician. Tell me how you will proceed.

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  32. 32.

    You are caring for a patient on your inpatient unit, and after making a call to the physician hospitalist on staff for support, you learn that the patient's medication regimen needs to be changed. Tell me the first steps you take.

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  33. 33.

    You are rounding on your patients on your inpatient unit, and as you enter an elderly woman's room, you find her sitting up and alert. Tell me what steps you take to prevent her from falling between now and the next time you round.

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  34. 34.

    You are caring for a young patient who is being discharged with a prescription for an inhaler. Upon asking the patient if he knows how to use the inhaler, he says, "Yes, I do." Tell me how you proceed.

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  35. 35.

    Your patient, who has just returned from surgery, now has multiple tubes and lines that you did not insert. You need to administer a drug into her central line, but are having a hard time finding this tube. As you are in a rush, tell me how you proceed.

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  36. 36.

    You are caring for a patient who is three-years-old and the physician has ordered a weight-based medication. When you look at the patient's records, you find the weight is documented in pounds. Explain how you proceed.

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  37. 37.

    Everyone on your unit is busy and you requested that your unit's nursing assistants bathe one of your patients earlier today. The patient has yet to be bathed and she is upset about it. Tell me how you proceed.

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  38. 38.

    You are working phone triage for your physician practice when a patient calls asking for advice as he is having chest pains. Tell me what you direct the patient to do.

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  39. 39.

    You are currently in a patient's room during hourly rounds and although she is not due for another dose of pain medication for two more hours, she is complaining of increased pain. Tell me how you proceed.

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  40. 40.

    A patient on your unit you are caring for has had his peripheral venous catheter in place for approximately 100 hours. The catheter looks normal and the vein is open. Tell me how you proceed with administering more IV medications.

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  41. 41.

    You are talking with a patient during rounds, and the patient tells you she does not understand what the doctors tell her and she is unsure of what is going on with her health. Tell me how you respond to the patient.

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  42. 42.

    What tools or techniques do you use to remember difficult information or instructions given verbally only?

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