Nurse Interview Questions About Patient Complaints

Nursing filling out patient chart
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Nursing is not an easy job. There’s a lot of juggling communication with doctors, patients and families during very trying times. It may seem like someone is always complaining about something, and the patient's stress can become your own when you're handling a barrage of complaints. If you have an interview for a nursing job, the interviewer will probably ask questions about handling patient complaints.

A nurse who does a lousy job of handling a complaint may escalate the situation into something much worse, so it’s essential to know how you’d assess and address any patient concerns.

Nursing Skills to Highlight During an Interview

There are two critical skills to highlight during a job interview to illustrate how you handle a demanding job's daily stresses: flexibility and empathy.


Every day can be different on the job; you never know what to expect. As a nurse, you have to handle varying shifts, heavy workloads, paperwork, dealing with physicians and your patients’ families.

Having a non-compliant patient who complains requires you to be flexible, think on your feet, and create solutions to their problems while keeping everyone happy—all while performing your job.

Essentially, the interviewer is trying to determine how well you handle stress and how you’ll treat patients and family members when they’re upset and have made a complaint.


Giving patients care and showing concern and empathy are inherent parts of taking care of people who are sick or in pain. Patients (and their families) need your attention, but it can be challenging when they complain. You may be pushed to the limits of your tolerance.

Nurses may also deal with compassion fatigue—empathy burnout from helping people around the clock. It helps to keep in mind that sometimes patients' complaints are nothing more than a coping mechanism in a situation where they have little control.

Interview Questions About Patients' Complaints

If you’re nervous about your upcoming interview and aren’t sure exactly what to expect, you may benefit from a review of potential interview questions about patient complaints. Some common questions could be:

  • How would you handle a patient who complains indiscriminately about everything?
  • How do you handle a patient who voices dislike for the food and refuses to eat?
  • How do you handle a patient who subsequently has their family bring in outside food that is contraindicated because of diet requirements?
  • How would you deal with a patient who complains of pain?
  • How do you handle a patient who cannot have any additional pain medication?

Think of a situation you've encountered similar to each of these, and remember how you dealt with them. Try to use examples with positive outcomes. Here are some more common complaint-oriented questions:

  • How do you manage a patient's irritation when whiteboards aren't updated to notify them of a new nurse on duty?
  • How do you appease a patient who's disgruntled with their roommate?
  • How do you manage someone who complains about getting out of bed?
  • How do you encourage a patient who complains about taking care of basic self-care?
  • How do you handle a patient who complains about their doctor?

If this is your first nursing interview, think of situations you've been in that resemble them and remember how you worked through them. A few more questions you might be asked are:

  • How do you handle a patient who complains that their phone or television doesn't work?
  • Nurses or technicians have to run tests or draw blood in the middle of the night. How do you deal with patients who complain about interrupted or lack of sleep?
  • How do you handle a patient complaint about a noisy nursing station that irritates them or disrupts their sleep?
  • How do you deal with a patient who complains about your care, specifically?
  • What's your strategy for a patient complaining about an inadequate response to their complaints?

How to Frame Your Responses

One very effective way to frame your response to interview questions about handling patient complaints is to use the STAR (Situation, Task, Approach, Result) interview response strategy. Most of the questions we’ve looked at here are situational interview questions—hypothetical questions that seek to gauge how you would provide solutions to any given situation with a patient.

Use the STAR technique to define the situation posed by the question (a complaining patient), identify your task (to defuse the complaint), outline your approach (how you have resolved similar issues in the past), and describe the result of your actions.

And so, for instance, you might say something like:

Whenever I’ve had a patient who has complained about something, I reminded myself that they were in a very stressful situation. As I see it, my task is to acknowledge that they have a valid complaint (even if they don’t) and then work with them to see how we can remediate the situation.

I've found that 90% of the time patients want to know that they are being heard. When I actively listen to them, they become more willing to accept the solutions I can offer.

Practice Makes Interviews Perfect

Now that you know what questions to expect take some time to prepare for your interview by practicing your answers. Say them out loud a few times—that way, you’ll feel more comfortable when it’s time for you to respond in an actual interview.

Even better, if you have a friend, colleague or family member willing to pose as the interviewer, ask them to role-play a mock interview with you. They can read each of these questions to you, and you can practice your answers.

Of course, you’ll be asked questions about a variety of things, so take some time to review other nursing interview tips. It also helps to be prepared to answer general interview questions at the same time.

Key Takeaways

  • Interviewers are interested in gauging your empathy and flexibility.
  • Interviewers also want to know how you handle stress.
  • Use the STAR method with examples of positive situations to answer the questions.
  • Study common interview questions and practice your responses.