Nurses’ Best Advice On How To Ask Sensitive Questions

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

We understand that you’re a nurse and very little can shock or embarrass you. Still, let’s acknowledge that many of the things you see and hear can be awkward. And sometimes you have to be the one to bring up touchy subjects that would make most non-nurses cringe. If you’re new to nursing, or maybe have a touchy sympathetic nervous system, you might be familiar with making an already-uncomfortable moment even more uncomfortable by developing an uncontrollable blush.

We want to help end the feared Nurse Blush Attack once and for all by offering advice from the nurses on our Facebook page about asking those ultra-sensitive questions.

(You know which ones we’re talking about!)

> “Finesse and professionalism, never waver or seem uncomfortable/embarrassed. It’s to treat the patient with the best care, not to judge them by their answers!”

—Becki L.

> “I say, ‘I have some questions, some may be slightly uncomfortable or seem silly, but I have to ask, and we’ll get through it.’ Usually preparing them helps a little.”

—Charity W.

> “Ask with the same nonchalant tone as other routine questions, but with less eye contact.”

—Suzanne D.

> “Remain professional but also relatable. If it’s a patient around my age, I let them know, ‘I know this is way uncomfortable and it sucks, but I need an assessment to get an idea of what’s going on to assist our MDs, so this is why I have to ask these embarrassing questions.’ I’ve had patients say, ‘Thank you so much for being understanding.'”

—Di M.

> “Just do it. Be mature about it. Be professional and ease into it. Break the ice first.”

—Andrea G.

> “As Lady Gaga says, ‘Poker face.'”

—Maria K.

“Come up with a standardized way of asking and keep it straightforward. I always say to a patient, ‘I have some sensitive questions while we are alone that I ask everyone as part of my full assessment.’ Then I ask them. Never had a problem; sometimes they laugh.”

—Candice T.

> “Always look sympathetic, but NEVER look shocked or disgusted.”

—Patricia M.

“I usually just say it with the same tone and body language as all of my other questions so my patients know it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. If I’ve had time to bond with my patient, I’ll use humor to make them more comfortable.”

—Shealee M.

> “I’m just upfront and honest. I’m a professional. I’m a nurse. If you come to my ED complaining of sores on your vagina or penis, I’m going to ask you what kind of sores, when did they appear and do you have discharge. Point blank. No tiptoeing around. We don’t say ‘on your girl’ or ‘your junk.’ We call it what it is. Period. That’s called professionalism.”

—Regina B.

Do you have a story about a time when you couldn’t control that blush? We want to hear about it in a comment below!

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. I work in psychiatry. Often our most disabled patients are the ones most in denial. Instead of asking “What is your diagnosis?”, I have learned to ask: “what is your understanding of your diagnosis?” I have also used this intro question in palliative, end-of-live care. This open question turns the control over to the individual and eliminates (a certain amount of) preconception.


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