Calling the Doc

I remember the fear of calling docs when I was a new nurse. Some actually terrified me. I would do whatever I could to NOT call them.  Then I learned to first ask the service who was on-call for a particular doc. Armed with that knowledge I would be able to formulate exactly what I needed to have ready when I called. Some were easy, others I knew I needed to have everything from the consistency of the last bowel movement to a recent set of vitals when I called.Of course when I spoke with them my words tumbled out in a torrent of rapid syllables of mixed meaning, like speaking in tongues.  Slowly I learned to slow down, present my case and ask for orders.  It became easier the longer I did it.

One of the things I hated the most was when one doc would order a particular thing, like “call for HR under 40” in a patient who was loading on Sotalol – which is kind of expected. The patient was asymptomatic, in fact they were asleep, but nonetheless I had to call the on-call doc who pretty much said, “OK.” and then hung up.  But I had to wake someone up to carry out this kind of crazy order. I think if I was a doc I wouldn’t appreciate that kind of calls. The frequency of those orders have dropped, kind of wondering if the other docs spoke with that particular colleague about those orders.

So now whenever one of our new nurses need to call a doc, we prep them as best as possible.  Depending on the situation we (the more seasoned nurses) can tell them what they need to have ready for the call.  If it’s a simple issue like the need for a sleeper, no problem.  We can suggest ideas based onthe patient, unless the doc has something in mind.  It’s when things are going south that they need the most help.  So we tell them to get a set of vitals, pull up the recent labs, have the MAR and chart handy, then call.  I only wish I had that when I was a new nurse!



  1. We use the SBAR rule and it helps the new nurses get through those intimidating phone calls.


  2. It’s a hard lesson that is sometimes served cold. We all learn this valuable lesson when communicating with physician’s not only over the phone but in person.
    It’s all about preparation and anticipation.
    Great post.


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