In a typical hospital setting, a patient is seen by multiple professionals from the moment they check in until they leave. When they first walk in through the emergency room doors, they register with a nurse receptionist and are then sent to a triage nurse who takes their vital signs, notes their symptoms and sends them to a doctor. 

Depending on their findings, the doctor may refer the patient to radiology for an x-ray or a scan or send them to a specialist doctor for a more accurate diagnosis. 

The patient encounters nurses throughout this process to help them along the way. If they are admitted, nurses become even more central to their treatment, helping administer medications, take vital signs, pass on observations to doctors and performing general patient care. 

All these professionals must collaborate. They must share information and it must be accurate and timely. 

Interdisciplinary collaboration is essential in healthcare. Nurses, doctors, lab technicians, specialists, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals must talk to each other if they hope to deliver high-quality, patient-centered care. 

Collaboration or teamwork can be described as two or more people working together to achieve a common goal, and it is becoming increasingly critical to healthcare. 

Today’s healthcare workers are specialists. They choose an area early in their career and focus on it. As such, they lack the in-depth knowledge to fully diagnose wide ranging illnesses, especially in more complex cases. 

They must work as a unit, sharing information quickly and accurately and making decisions that lead to the best outcome for the patient. 

The results are owned by everyone on the team, and if things go wrong, responsibility is shared as well. 

Studies have shown that teams that collaborate are more efficient and better at risk management. They are better at delivering desired outcomes for patients and they tend to be more innovative. 

Why interdisciplinary collaboration?

The hospital environment has become quite complex for both patients and practitioners. Navigating the healthcare process requires clear lines of communication that eliminate the risk of confusion. 

Learning to collaborate often means the difference between failure and success. If doctors, nurses and other professionals are not on the same page then lots of things can go wrong. 

Why is collaboration important for nurses?

As a student nurse, or if you are new to the profession, you may wonder why you should be talking to your colleagues and how it impacts healthcare delivery. 

Nurses form the bulk of healthcare professionals in America. They spend the most time with patients and are therefore uniquely placed to gather information that their colleagues may not be privy to. 

Imagine, for example, that you are a nurse in the maternity wing. An otherwise healthy pregnant woman comes in, and in the course of conversation, she tells you that she has been experiencing heart flutters from time to time. She isn’t worried because they don’t last long, and they haven’t caused her any trouble. 

This is probably information that she wouldn’t have divulged to anyone else because it seems unimportant. However, you are her nurse, and just to be safe, you feel you should send her to the cardiologist. You enter her information on the computer and even call ahead so that the cardiologist is prepared. 

This is a simple example, but it shows the vital role that nurses play in collaboration. The extended contact they have with patients allows them to gather more information than the doctor or specialist. If they pass that information to the right professional, they can greatly influence treatment outcomes. 

Do all nursing schools teach collaboration?

Does it matter where you get your nursing degree? It makes a difference where you go to nursing school. You should choose an accredited institution that is well-known for turning out highly qualified nurses. Apart from teaching you all about nursing, they will also teach you the value of soft skills such as interdisciplinary collaboration and how to be a reliable team player. 

Before you enroll, you should consider online nursing courses, such as those offered by Elmhurst University. They offer flexibility that is absent from in-person classes, and they usually take a shorter time to complete. They are also often less expensive, and the qualifications are just as highly regarded as those you would earn if you attended in-person classes. 

Keep in mind that online courses have their own special challenges. They require discipline, and there’s no one to push you to get your coursework done. If you aren’t self-motivated then online learning may not be a good fit. 

What are the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration?

Healthcare facilities that practice collaboration tend to generate better results than those that don’t. Over time, a significant number of the benefits of open communication between professionals and departments have been identified:

There are better patient outcomes

The primary goal of healthcare is to provide healing and those who collaborate report higher success rates for patients. When professionals talk, things are less likely to fall through the cracks. Everyone on the team is aware of all important information regarding a patient’s condition and treatment.  

The typical hospital patient is seen by several professionals. Imagine, for example, that a man walks into a hospital complaining of chest pain. He is examined in the emergency room by an ER doctor who refers him to the cardiologist on call. 

The cardiologist sends him to a radiologist for tests, and he determines that the patient is having a heart attack. He is scheduled for emergency surgery with a team of heart surgeons, after which he is admitted to the ICU. 

Cardiology and ICU nurses care for him until he is well enough to be moved to the general ward. There, he meets a new rotation of nurses who continue to care for him until he is well enough to go home. 

Before he leaves, he is briefed about lifestyle changes by a doctor and a nurse, and he may be given a smartwatch to monitor his heart activity. The device’s information is sent to the IT department of the hospital and passed on to the man’s primary carers. 

Numerous healthcare professionals have been involved with the patient from the moment he walked into the hospital. If communication and collaboration had failed at any stage, the man would probably still be ill. However, because the hospital has developed such effective teams, the man can go home after a few days where he can be monitored remotely. 

This is a scenario that plays out thousands of times in hospitals across America, and it works. Healthcare professionals understand that one of the most important elements of healthcare delivery is communication. 

It helps reduce medical errors

Medical errors kill thousands every year in the United States. It is estimated that more than 250,000 people die annually because of miscommunication, mistakes and carelessness in hospitals. Although legislators are pushing for laws for better patient safety, it all starts in the hospital. 

Accidents happen when there is a failure to communicate. Sometimes it is something as simple as multiple doctors prescribing multiple medications. In some cases, a patient’s allergies to certain drugs are not reported, and a drug is prescribed that causes an adverse reaction. 

All these are communication issues that can easily be resolved if teams work together properly. If they talk to each other and share information then the number of deaths and illnesses can be greatly reduced. 

Doctors and nurses can start treatment faster

Healthcare is a waiting game. Walk into any ER and you will find a long line of people waiting for treatment. Even after they pass the ER and move on to other departments, they still must wait for their information to arrive. As patients wait, their symptoms get worse. Only the most critical are given immediate care. 

Imagine that information could be passed on in a timely fashion. In an ideal situation, a patient should be able to access their portal from wherever they are and book an appointment, so that when they arrive at the hospital, they can go directly to the healthcare provider they need to see. 

As they move through the system, nurses, doctors and other professionals share information and waiting time is minimized. 

Collaboration reduces healthcare costs by eliminating inefficiencies

Delays cost money, and every additional expense strains the healthcare system. This leads to bottlenecks and redundancies that are expensive for both patients and hospitals. 

Enhanced communication allows timely care to be delivered. Patients don’t have to wait, there is a smaller likelihood of errors and patient outcomes are improved. 

Healthcare professionals report better job satisfaction

When people communicate well, they can achieve better results. This leads to overall feelings of satisfaction. Patients are happier with their outcomes, and nurses and doctors feel that they have made a difference. 

Collaboration empowers team members

There was a time when the doctor was viewed as almost supreme when it came to making decisions about patients. Whatever they said went, and it didn’t matter if the other professionals around them had opinions. 

The introduction of collaboration in clinical settings means that doctors must work within teams. They should listen to and respect other team members. If a nurse or a technician provides an opinion, it must be weighed by the other members of the team for viability. This gives a sense of empowerment and confidence to everyone involved in the patient’s care. 

Collaboration lowers readmission rates

When healthcare professionals collaborate, readmission rates tend to be lower. Diagnoses and treatments are more accurate and healthcare solutions are more comprehensive. Patients tend to enjoy better health overall, and they are less likely to see a doctor multiple times. 

What are the elements of collaboration in nursing?

Nurses are an integral part of the healthcare system. As was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, without them things would likely come to a grinding halt. 

Nurses work within teams, and to succeed, they should have a proper understanding of the elements of collaboration that are needed to deliver high-quality healthcare, such as: 

  • Communication – A good nurse communicates with fellow nurses and other professionals, passing and receiving information as necessary. 
  • Collaboration – This should be more than a buzzword. The best nurses know how to work within teams to achieve common goals. 
  • Coordination – Nurses tend to know more about the patients in their care than other professionals, and they can act as coordinators, ensuring that everyone is working together for the good of the patient. 
  • Accountability – A nurse who exercises accountability does their best to ensure that every patient in their care gets what they need to get better. They also care about how they communicate with team members. Accountable people care about their actions and how they affect others. 
  • Integrity – This is all about doing right by others. A nurse who has integrity is honest and dependable, and they can be trusted. They don’t need to outshine others on their team. Rather, they understand the need for collaboration and play their part for every patient.
  • Sharing ideas – An idea is worthless if it isn’t shared with the team so that they can see how best it can help the patient. A good nurse understands that hoarding ideas impacts the level of care that the team can deliver to those under their care. 
  • Supporting other team members – Team players understand the need to support others. If everyone on the team feels appreciated, they will find it easier to contribute, and patient care becomes a joy rather than a chore. 

How can nurses become dependable team players?

Nurses who play well with others tend to advance in their careers. You can be highly skilled and qualified but if you don’t know how to collaborate then you will have a hard time keeping a job. 

Collaboration is a soft skill. You may not encounter it as a module in nursing school, but there are certain things you can do to become a team player. 

1.      Help others

The first is to develop a genuine interest in helping others. Most nurses have a natural tendency to help. While you may have empathy towards your patients, you may not feel the same about your colleagues. To be a good team player, you must be helpful all around. 

This is not to say that you should take on roles that aren’t yours. However, if you see a colleague struggling and you have the time, it doesn’t hurt to help them. You develop good relationships and working within teams becomes easier. 

2.      Be reliable

We all know how it feels to work with someone unreliable. You are never sure where you stand, whether they have done their duties as required, whether they have given you the right information or even whether they are being truthful. 

For most of us, unreliable people are to be avoided. It is the same within a clinical environment, only the stakes are much higher. 

If you want to be a good team player, you must be the sort of person that others can rely on. 

3.      Be a good communicator

You should learn how to communicate openly, concisely and without intimidating or annoying others. Good communication makes you a pleasure to work with, and your colleagues will be happy to work with you to help patients. 

Good communication with patients is also necessary. Remember, of all your colleagues. you have the most contact with the sick, so it is up to you to make observations and ask questions that help you deliver better care. 

4.      Be positive

It can be difficult to stay positive when you are surrounded by the sick, but happy, positive people are easier to work with. 

5.      Set an example for those around you

Nurses are figures of authority. They are trusted not just by their colleagues, but by patients and their families. Your behavior should be an example to them. If others admire the way you work, they will want to be on your team. 

6.      Be open-minded about change

Change is a way of life. Healthcare institutions are constantly evolving. New technologies have redefined nursing roles in many ways. As old nurses retire, new ones come in and they bring change within the workplace. 

If you have a problem accepting change, you will not be a good team player. You will resist new ideas from others, and this will lead to unnecessary friction. 

7.      Strive to learn

The better you understand your environment, the better you can contribute to patient wellbeing. If, for example, you know that there are certain challenges in the radiology or the pharmacy department that lead to delays, rather than getting upset when you don’t get results on time, you can strive to find ways to solve the problem. 

It is little things like these that make nurses excellent collaborators and team players. 


Interdisciplinary collaboration has become standard practice in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and hospices. Nurses who understand the value of working well with others deliver better results than those who don’t. Always remember that when you collaborate, you achieve better outcomes for your patients.