Common Nursing Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Searching for a nursing job is exhausting, from filling out applications, uploading your resume and cover letter to passing readiness tests and assessments. By the time you finally land an interview, the process can be overwhelming. Nursing job interviews can feel intimidating for even the most experienced nurse, but interviewing can be something you conquer without breaking a sweat. Here’s a guide to help you master your next job interview, including samples of common nursing interview questions and answers.

Common themes for nursing interview questions

Because nurses care for patients, provide continuity of care, and interact with different members of a patient's interdisciplinary team, a lot of nursing interview questions revolve around:

  • Patient care
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability

These types of nursing interview questions are considered behavioral interview questions. Using real-life examples and stories is a great way to answer behavioral-based interview questions. The interviewer is often attempting to see how you'd react in challenging situations and if you can adapt to life on the unit you're applying to work at.

Use the STAR method to answer nursing interview questions

The STAR method is a well-known technique that you can use to answer behavioral-based interview questions. The acronym lays out how you should format your answer and tell your story:

  • Situation. Think of a similar situation that had a successful outcome.
  • Task. What task were you responsible for in the situation? State your contribution clearly and concisely.
  • Action. What action did you take? This is the time to highlight your best qualities and brag on yourself a little.
  • Result. What was the result? How did you specifically contribute to the outcome? What did you learn or take away from the experience?

By using this method, you’ll be able to fully convey how you’ve handled a real-life situation in the past and how you can successfully administer future ones. Even if you're just beginning your career and don't have a lot of experience, this is a useful tactic you can use for tackling new grad nurse interview questions.

Sample questions on patient care

Tell me about a time you dealt with an unhappy or difficult patient or family member.

Explain the situation without violating HIPAA. Don't speak negatively on the patient or their caregiver. Instead, this is a time to show you have empathy. If you did something wrong, be sure to acknowledge your mistake and share how you corrected it.

Sample answer: 

I once had a patient who had a new order for wound care. His responsible party did not like how I dressed his wound. She thought that I should have used a different type of dressing. To ease her concerns, I reassured her I was following the doctor's orders. In layman's terms, I then explained the treatment order to her, step by step, and asked if she had any questions. She let me know that she was unaware of the order change and thanked me for taking the time to explain everything to her in a way she could understand. I apologized that the new orders were not relayed to her and let her know that I was available if she had any more questions.

How do you explain medications, treatments, or healthcare situations without using a lot of medical or healthcare jargon?

Here's your chance to show that you know how to practice therapeutic communication and teach patients. Explain what you said, the language or terminology you used, and how you ensured the patient understood your explanation.

Sample answer:

Patients have different educational backgrounds and understanding of their healthcare and health terms. When I was a home healthcare nurse, many of my patients did not understand specific medical terms. So, I used terminology they understood. Instead of edema, I used swelling. For hypertension, I used high blood pressure. And instead of saying gastroesophageal reflux, I used acid reflux. I made sure they understood what I was saying by asking them to repeat what they heard until they could accurately repeat it in a way that made sense to them.

Describe a time a patient was really happy with your care or a time you went above and beyond for a patient?

This is your chance to brag about yourself and showcase your skills. What was the outcome? Do you speak a second language? Have you received awards related to excellent patient care?

Sample answer:

I once had a patient who continued to be readmitted to the hospital because of congestive heart failure (CHF). When I came on my shift and started talking with her, I realized she was newly diagnosed with CHF and did not understand the dietary restrictions. So, I took the time to explain what a fluid restriction and no added salt diet was. I wrote everything down and gave her examples of food high in sodium to avoid. Then, I asked the physician to provide her with a referral for a dietary consult while in the hospital. I mentioned that I thought she would benefit from home healthcare when she was discharged. A few months later, she mailed a card to the unit thanking me and letting us know she hadn't been admitted for CHF since she was discharged and was doing well. 

Sample questions on teamwork

Describe a situation when you had to work with a difficult coworker? What was the problem, and how did you resolve it?

Do not use this time to trash talk about anyone. Don't talk badly about any coworker. As an alternative, this is the time to show how you handle conflict. Take your time and explain a specific situation, why it was difficult, and why the coworker was challenging to work with. How did you handle the problem, and what was the outcome? What did you learn from that situation that you can use in the future?

Sample answer:

I had a coworker who worked the opposite shift of me, who would rush me when she gave report during the handoff. Often, she would only give me partial information about a patient, and sometimes I received no information at all. It was frustrating to me, and it caused tension between us. One day, I came to work ten minutes early. I politely informed her that her handoffs often caused misinformation about our patients. I suggested we do walking rounds so that there was no miscommunication about patients and we didn't miss anything. She agreed that it was a good resolution. That situation taught me how to speak up for myself and confront a problem head-on. 

Describe a situation where you displayed teamwork.

Here’s where you can show you're a team player. Think of a time you stepped in and helped a coworker. What was the outcome? How did the team react?

Sample answer:

In long-term care, the nurses often act as their own charge nurses. Responsible for medication passes, wound care, admissions, and discharges; your day can be hectic. There was this one day when my coworker, another nurse, was having a chaotic day. He had a resident fall, a new admission, a discharge, and a heavy med pass. On top of all of that, he still needed to finish his skilled (Medicare) charting. I saw he was struggling and offered to complete his admission and start working on his discharge paperwork. He was so appreciative and was able to finish up and actually leave work on time. 

Are you comfortable communicating with other members of the healthcare team? Describe a time there was a conflict with another member of a patient's healthcare team.

This is where you showcase your communication, leadership, and patient advocate skills. But remember, don’t trash talk, no matter how difficult the situation was. It's your time to focus on what you do well without putting down others. Describe the conflict, who was involved, and what you learned.  

Sample answer:

One specific time, a patient's wife told me that she didn't think the doctor cared about her husband's health because he was always "in and out" of the room and never answered their questions. I discussed their concerns with the physician. In return, he yelled at me. I calmly, yet assertively, explained that his behavior was inappropriate. I spoke up on behalf of the patient, and I didn't appreciate him yelling at me. He then "reported" me to my nursing supervisor. I explained to my supervisor that I was acting as a patient advocate, addressing the patient's concerns, AND speaking up for myself when I was addressed inappropriately by a coworker. She assured me I did the right thing, and she spoke with the physician on my behalf. Although it may be intimidating, I learned that you should also address a patient or their caregiver's concerns.  

Sample questions on adaptability

What do you do when you don't know an answer to a patient's question or how to address a situation?

No nurse knows it all. Don’t be afraid to describe a time when you didn’t know the answer or what to do. Explain step-by-step the action you took to find the answer or address the situation.

Sample answer:

When I start my shift, I go over patients' diagnoses and medications. If I'm unfamiliar with anything, I do quick research and learn what I need to know. It could be about signs and symptoms, prognosis, side effects of medications, adverse reactions, contraindications, etc. If I am still unsure, I ask a more experienced nurse or a provider. If I have questions about medication, sometimes I call the pharmacist and get clarification. And if I don't understand something, I don't try to guess. I'll contact my nursing supervisor or ask someone with experience. I don't let my lack of knowledge affect patient care. 

How do you handle changes to your assignment, the unit, schedule, etc.?

We all know nursing is forever changing, and we need to be flexible. Use this question as an opportunity to explain how you adapt to change. 

Sample answer: 

When my facility switched to electronic medical records, I learned the system easily and quickly. But I noticed some of the older nurses had issues adapting and struggled with the new system. I volunteered to help and was placed on a team to support the nurses' transition from paper charting to the new system. 

Describe a time you were under a lot of pressure? How did you handle it?

Discuss a time you experienced stress at work. Explain the situation and then describe your actions and the result. Did that situation teach you anything about handling stress?

Sample answer:

It was my week on call and I was also the staff development nurse. Every day I was called or had to go to the facility to handle an issue. It was really stressful because it felt like I was being pulled in ten different directions. Not only did I have to make sure my job was complete, but I also had to be there when something went wrong or if someone called out.

To cut down on the stress and the back and forth, I had each nurse leave me a report. Additionally, I told them I would address any non-emergent issues the following day when I got to work. I decided to get to work about ten minutes early every day to see what I needed to handle from the day before. 

Other common nursing interview questions 

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What do you like most about being a nurse?
  3. What do you find most difficult about being a nurse?
  4. Why are you leaving your current position?
  5. Why do you want to work here?
  6. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a nurse?

Answer these nursing interview questions truthfully and transparently. Be open and honest. Talk about the most challenging aspects of nursing. If you're leaving your current position because of salary, say it. If you want more leadership opportunities, express your aspirations and goals. Be sure to share your passion for nursing, your enthusiasm to help patients, and your eagerness to excel at the career you've worked so hard for.

If you’re a nurse looking to advance your career, consider Aspen University’s online RN to BSNMSN, and DNP programs. And if you're looking to become a registered nurse, check out the BSN Pre-Licensure program. 

The article originally appeared on Aspen University's Altitude blog, written by Portia Wofford. Aspen University is a United States-based private, for-profit, accredited distance-learning university, reputable for its affordable nursing programs. Altitude is the official blog of Aspen University that features informative nursing articles, compelling tips, and professional accomplishments.

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