7 Tips To Stay Calm During A Patient Emergency

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

It’s an hour from the end of your shift, and you’re at the nurse’s station filling out some paperwork. It’s boring – and you’re already mentally at home in your pajamas, watching Netflix. But suddenly, a code blue rings out. You’re the nurse closest to the patient’s room. A doctor is already rushing towards it with a crash cart. It’s your “first code”.

You need to help, but your heart’s beating faster. You can feel yourself getting sweaty. Your skin gets clammy. A feeling of panic starts to rise in your throat. You get up and walk towards the room, and you can feel yourself shaking.

Okay, this scenario is a bit of an exaggeration. While newer nurses may have trouble during codes, experienced nurses can easily handle codes and patient emergencies, and only feel a bit of nervous tension – but even the most experienced nurse can sometimes crack under the pressure and lose their cool.

It’s absolutely crucial that you respond to a code with calm and precision. A patient’s life hangs in the balance – freaking out or making an incorrect decision could cost them everything.

To help you stay calm and collected during a code blue or another patient emergency, we’ve put together 7 quick tips to help you prepare, focus, and provide great care to a patient in case of an emergency.

  1. Be Prepared – Before An Emergency Happens

Make sure you know where the code cart/crash cart is when starting your shift. Laying eyes and hands on it before you begin work is a good way to reinforce its location in your mind, and knowing where it is in case of an emergency can allow you to respond more quickly, and provide better care.

  1. Better Safe Than Sorry – Use That Code Button!

Experienced nurses often don’t call a code until they absolutely have to – they believe that they have the skills, experience, and ability to take care of just about any patient situation.

However, this isn’t always the case, and remember – it’s better to have help and not need it than to need help and not have it. If an emergency situation is developing, hit that code button. Your patient’s life depends on it.

  1. Communication, Communication, Communication

Clear communication is essential in an emergency situation. If you’re in a patient emergency situation, you should be speaking or listening at all times – ask other nurses or doctors what they need you to do, state what you’re doing, ask others if they have performed basic tasks (Have you started the IV? Do we need to intubate? Are we doing CPR?).

By communicating clearly with all personnel on hand while working on a patient, you can delineate tasks efficiently and reduce your own stress levels – you will know exactly what is expected of you, and be able to perform your tasks well.

Tips 4-7 on page two.

  1. Remember The ABCS

An urgent code blue or another patient emergency can often totally freeze the brain of even the most seasoned nurse. The urgency of patient emergencies can lead to confusing situations, so start with the basics when beginning resuscitation procedures on a critical patient – Airway, Breathing, and Circulation – ABC.


  • Airway – Make sure the airway is unobstructed. If it is, take appropriate action.
  • Breathing – Assess breathing sufficiency. Is there fluid in the lungs? Is the patient breathing? Is their breathing shallow?
  • Circulation – Check for blood loss and proper circulatory function.

These steps are as relevant in your day-to-day work as they were on day 1 of nursing school. Remember to start with the basics when assessing a patient crash situation.

  1. Focus On Your Specialties

This will become natural as you get used to a hospital environment. Each staff member has certain tasks that they’re better at than others.

If you’re great at intubating and confident in your abilities, make sure you communicate that, and that you take over intubation duties on a patient during an emergency. If you’re good at CPR, make that clear – and take the lead on performing it.

When you perform tasks that you excel at, you can increase your confidence and help your team perform more efficiently in an emergency situation. You will also be more calm – you know what you’re doing, you’re great at it, and you can do it, no matter how urgent or critical your task is.

  1. Never, Ever Raise Your Voice

Raising your voice is a sure way to spread panic among other staff members, and doing so can also make you feel more nervous and uncomfortable. It’s a vicious spiral – as soon as one staff member begins shouting, the others may quickly follow, leading to a poor caregiving environment, especially if patient’s family members are present.

You’re a professional. You’re the voice of reason. Even if you feel like screaming and panicking on the inside, staying calm and maintaining a professional demeanor is crucial to performing your duties well.

  1. Debrief After The Incident

After the incident is over – no matter the result – the team responsible for the patient’s emergency care should begin communicating with each other. Discuss the incident with each other, talk about what you did right, what could be done better, and support each other – even the most seasoned doctors and nurses can be shaken by a rough code or patient emergency.

Doing so builds team support, and allows for constructive feedback and criticism, which will allow for a higher level of care for critical patients in the future.

The Best Way To Stay Calm Is To Be Prepared

All of the breathing exercises in the world won’t help you in an emergency situation if you’re unprepared.

The best way to ensure you are calm, professional, and providing your best possible level of patient care is by following the above 7 steps, and being prepared and ready for any and all possible patient emergencies.

So follow these tips, and when the time comes that an emergency code is called, take a deep breath, close your eyes for a moment, and know that you are ready. Get out there. Save a life.

Your turn! Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


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