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Undefined Roles of Nurses and Doctors Lead to Conflict in Interpersonal Collaboration


The health care system faces an ever-increasing number of challenges, including a lack of resources, growing healthcare costs, and increased public expectations. Interprofessional collaboration is necessary to provide patients with comprehensive, safe and treatment. There is a broad range of misunderstandings and conflicts among healthcare team members in today’s healthcare industry due to pressures including excessive work piles, rising expectations on nurses, and types of professional distress. In today’s healthcare environment, nurses are seen as professional practitioners who play a distinct position in the team. This paper provides a discussion of the issues causing conflicts between doctors and nurses in the healthcare system.

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Main Body

All physician-nurse relationships are not plagued by conflict and stress. Patients benefit from the collaboration between doctors and nurses in various healthcare settings. The relationship between doctors and nurses may be seen from either a doctor’s or a nurse’s perspective. According to several studies, doctors are less concerned than nurses (Shafran, 2017). On the other hand, nurses believe that the issue is more severe than doctors. Doctors’ directions may be at odds. Some nurses disagree with physicians regarding the propriety of orders they have made for patients’ tests or medication or believe the physician should prescribe a certain medication that the doctor has refused to provide (Lokker et al., 2018). For example, the nurse may believe that they understand the patients better than the doctors or that the suggested action is ethically questionable because of these feelings.

A nurse’s frustration level might rise if they believe their inquiries, comments, and suggestions on patient care and other procedures are being disregarded. In many cases, nurses have to contact doctors to seek clarification or instructions on patients’ needs and treatment, yet doctors are not always approachable to give direction. There are situations when the nurses have insufficient knowledge about a patient to make an informed judgment for the physician (Smith, 2020). When doctors are unwelcome to their calls for direction, this further strains the collaborative relationship.

There are also instances in which doctors are verbally abusive against nurses and publicly reprimand them using derogatory words. Often, doctors get annoyed with a newly registered nurse who doesn’t know how to do their job well or an employee who doesn’t provide an injection as swiftly or adequately. Doctors may get frustrated with nurses they view as consuming too much time due to their busy schedules.

In contemporary American healthcare, the disparity in authority between doctors and nurses is well-known. It is usual in American culture for doctors to have tremendous status and significant financial success and authority regarding health care. All professions need extensive education, including college, medical or osteopathic study, and fellowship training. On the other hand, although being a highly regarded profession, nursing does not get the same level of respect or financial reward as other professions. In a lawsuit, the doctor is responsible for the patient. When it comes to determining a patient’s medical diagnosis and treatment, the physician is the one who makes the final call. Even while doctors are not directly responsible for nurses, they frequently advise them.

When a nurse is needed in private medical practice, it is not uncommon for the doctor to recruit and supervise. Hospitals may have a commercial or administrative hierarchy and a medical hierarchy in place of a single management structure. The hospital’s physician hierarchy influences critical choices about the facility’s present and future orientation. The nurse hierarchy at a hospital often does not have the same power level. As a result, nurses have traditionally perceived their function as subordinate to the doctor in healthcare and non-healthcare settings. To put it another way, a power imbalance between doctors and nurses, as well as a disparity in education and socioeconomic status, causes nurses to believe that their opinions are less important than those of physicians (Day, 2019). Disparities lead to feelings of irritation and dissatisfaction.

A conventional picture of nurses portrays them as solely doctors’ aids. However, nursing theoreticians argue the perception as a misperception of the essential purpose of nursing. A good approach to distinguishing between doctors’ jobs and nursing views doctors as focusing on curing the illness and rehabilitating the patient (Taranta & Marcinowicz, 2020). In contrast, nursing emphasizes providing care to the patient as a person. However, doctors are anxious to ensure a patient gets good treatment, and nurses focus on eliminating sickness. Lack of clear distinction of roles brings a conflict due to the mix up of roles of the two professionals.

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The contrasting doctor’s or nurse’s intentions for the patient are sometimes perceived to cause dispute. The nurse may assume that focusing on the patient’s wellness significantly influences their treatment. A specialty doctor assigned to a patient in a health facility sometimes attends to the patient less frequently than the nurses; thus, the nurses may believe they understand the patient’s care requirements and what they need better than the doctor (Lambooij et al., 2017). The nurse may believe that they deserve more charge and power for the patient than the present structure, accompanying nurse discontent, anger, and pressure.

As recently as a few decades ago, almost all doctors and nurses in the United States were males. The majority of nurses are still women, even though there are now male nurses. Although most doctors are still male, women make up many recent medical school graduates and current students. Though significant progress has been achieved in recent years, many ethicists and political theorists maintain that women have been oppressed in society for a long time.

Nurses have long been seen as subordinate since they are usually female, and females are generally viewed as subservient in society. Consequently, nurses may feel denigrated, insulted, frightened, and disempowered due to these causes and the associated tension and stress. Nurses with poor self-esteem or feelings of intimidation may be less likely to bring out mistakes they believe a doctor is making (Arand, 2019). Due to nurse turnover, denigration and disempowerment may lead to work discontentment.

One specific suggestion is to increase communication between doctors and nurses. Frustration and unhealthy workplace relationships may emerge from a lack of effective communication (Tang et al., 2018). Doctors’ and nurses’ relationships in the facilities are still poor. Better communication may assist, but not enough to tackle issues exacerbated by significant power inequalities or sexism, for example, would be required. Also required are tips for improving communication. The concerned stakeholders need to devise ways to ensure these relationships are improved.

In some instances, nurses try to avoid or accept confrontation, but developing collaboration and cooperation via conflict resolution might help ease physician-nurse tensions and improve results in the long run. Tolerance is an excellent idea, but it’s not clear whether doctors can be expected to engage in any dispute resolution process if they are comfortable with the status quo or believe that the issue is solely the responsibility of nurses to solve on their own.

Nurses are sometimes urged to seek more autonomy, power, and authority. Nurses around the country are already doing so. There is a need for suggestions on how nurses might gain more influence if doctors are unwilling to give it up. Recently, the function of the interdisciplinary team in healthcare has been highlighted. Doctors and nurses are expected to perceive themselves as members of a team. The contributions of others are to be recognized in that setting. The doctor may see their function as a supervisor or director. Thus the nurses may feel that their contributions are confined or sidelined.

Senior healthcare management should take any appropriate initiative to ensure structures and organization of the facility support create an environment everyone feels respected and appreciated. The interaction between the medical director and the director of nursing, for example, at a hospital, should be one of cooperation and mutual respect to serving as partners (Wie et al., 2020). They should recognize each other’s contributions to the organization. They should also develop a strategy on how doctors and nurses work together.

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Improving relationships is inhibited if nurses must police doctors’ compliance with medical record regulations since this would create a barrier to cooperation. Additionally, doctors are not supposed to act as supervisors to nurses, and instead, there should be collaborative teamwork in healthcare facilities. The contributions of both professions are necessary to succeed in the healthcare sector. Collaborative efforts between doctors and nurses, such as doctors offering continuing education and nurses sitting on credentialing boards, should build trust and healthy working relationships.

Reference List

Arand, J. R. (2019). The Effect of Self-Esteem, Bullying, and Harassment on Nurse Turnover Intention.

Day, E. (2019). The unionization of nurses. In Vital Signs (pp. 89-112). University of Toronto Press.

Lambooij, M. S., Drewes, H. W., & Koster, F. (2017). Use of electronic medical records and quality of patient data: different reaction patterns of doctors and nurses to the hospital organization. BMC medical informatics and decision making, 17(1), 1-11.

Lokker, M. E., Swart, S. J., Rietjens, J. A. C., van Zuylen, L., Perez, R. S. G. M., & van der Heide, A. (2018). Palliative sedation and moral distress: A qualitative study of nurses. Applied Nursing Research, 40, 157-161.

Shafran-Tikva, S., Chinitz, D., Stern, Z., & Feder-Bubis, P. (2017). Violence against physicians and nurses in a hospital: How does it happen? A mixed-methods study. Israel journal of health policy research, 6(1), 1-12.

Smith, K. (2020). Talking therapy: Knowledge and power in American psychiatric nursing. Rutgers University Press.

Tang, C. J., Zhou, W. T., Chan, S. W. C., & Liaw, S. Y. (2018). Interprofessional collaboration between junior doctors and nurses in the general ward setting: A qualitative exploratory study. Journal of nursing management, 26(1), 11-18.

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Taranta, E., & Marcinowicz, L. (2020). Collaboration between the family nurse and family doctor from the perspective of patients: a qualitative study. Family practice, 37(1), 118-123.

Wei, H., Corbett, R. W., Ray, J., & Wei, T. L. (2020). A culture of caring: the essence of healthcare interprofessional collaboration. Journal of interprofessional care, 34(3), 324-331.

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