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Email Etiquette for the Hospital

Email Etiquette for the Hospital

Nealeigh Mitchell | NursingLink

April 19, 2010

Nurses are busy enough taking care of patients, calming families, and keeping doctors updated on cases. Don’t let a silly email mistake ruin your shift! In this age of BlackBerry-toting professionals connected by email around globe, it’s crucial to abide by the written (and unwritten) rules of email communication. You don’t want to embarrass yourself, do you?

Don’t send another message without this checklist in mind:

Fit for Email?

Email’s speed and effectiveness is perfect for sending important message about a new swine flu outbreak or some other hospital emergency. But is it the best way to deliver every message? Are you sending an email about your vacation plans? Or are you responding to a message riddled with patient questions and clarification requests? Picking up the phone or chatting face-to-face with fellow nurses could cut down on time-wasting (and highly unproductive) back-and-forth prattle, which saves everyone time and energy. Remember, one size doesn’t fit all, so make sure an email is the correct mode of communication.

Made for Mass?

Resist the knee-jerk reaction to hit "Reply All,” and instead, take a moment to scan over the distribution list and CCs. Chances are, you’ll save yourself an embarrassing reply to a list that includes the chief of surgery or the head nurse on staff! Keeping the list down to the critical few also protects privacy. Nobody is keen on having personal email addresses advertised to strangers, so a BCC will keep all parties protected. Finally, don’t use “To” as a weapon. CC’ing your supervising nurse to show you’re working late or BCC’ing your fellow nurse over hospital gossip is inappropriate and potentially damaging.

Spice Up the Subject Line

Time is everything for a busy nurse. An unclear subject line is more likely to end up in the trash when you’re faced with reading through an overcrowded inbox or checking in on a patient. Limit your subject line to 40 characters and a few seconds. In the daily battle of nurse vs. message, the strongest emails survive by reeling in the reader with a pertinent subject line. So how do you make sure yours won’t get buried in the pile? Not by slapping on “URGENT! READ NOW!” Cut to the chase with a simple comment or action. Better yet, if you can convey the email’s message in the subject line, do it!

Keep It Concise

Nurses are always on the go, so if your email gives the scroll wheel a workout, cut it down. Now is not the time to prove your literary chops. Crisp, simplistic language gives your fellow nurses the luxury of skimming and scanning for relevant information. Emailing about a shift change? No need to explain the details! Plus, the briefer the message, the likelier you’ll get an immediate response. Bullet points and patches of white space — instead of a 10-line block of text — are easier on the eyes and help organize your message. Finally (or firstly), hook your reader with the opening line — she may not read on, so make sure it’s the meat of the message. Example: “Shift canceled due to statewide nursing union strike!” Enough said.

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