Top 20 Nursing Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

By Sadie Glisson BSN, RN

December 8, 2021

Sadie Glisson BSN, RN, has worked as a nurse in case management, clinical research and oncology data abstraction. She is also the founder of “The Remote Nurse,” an online community and job board designed to connect nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to remote telehealth jobs.

During a nursing interview, your interviewer will ask you questions that allow you to demonstrate your abilities and knowledge related to interacting with and caring for others in a fast-paced environment. It is best to prepare responses that showcase your skills, training and experience. In this article, we highlight questions you may encounter during a nursing interview and offer advice to help you prepare so you can fully demonstrate your qualifications for the job.

Common nursing interview questions

Use your responses to demonstrate your ability to maintain the best quality of care for your patients. In addition to practicing your responses, you can also prepare questions to ask your interviewer and update your resume.
Here are 10 common nursing interview questions to consider practicing:

1. Do you work well with other nurses, doctors and staff?

Teamwork is a vital skill for anyone in the nursing field. It's important to express that you recognize the value of working together with doctors, other nurses and staff members. Collaborating with your co-workers can provide the best patient outcomes, ensure the effectiveness of safety procedures and increase your job satisfaction. When you answer this question, emphasize your interpersonal skills, such as teamwork, patience and active listening.

Example: “During my clinical training at Northeast Hospital in the ER, I learned how important it is to communicate well with other nurses. One night, a patient approached me to say he had been waiting for his medication for 20 minutes. I was new to the hospital at the time, so I checked in with his nurse before deciding to provide it myself. It turned out that the patient had Alzheimer's disease and his attending nurse had given him the medication already. This communication helped our team to ensure the patient's safety.”

Read more: What Does a Nurse Do?

2. How would you handle a difficult patient?

As a nurse, it’s important to have compassion and patience. Your patients are often facing difficult situations that can sometimes affect their attitudes. When you encounter a difficult patient, take steps to reassure them. Make sure you administer any medication properly according to schedule and provide extra resources that might help make the patient more comfortable. When asked this question, consider giving an example of a time when you encountered a difficult patient and helped to improve the patient's outcome.

Example: “While working overnight as a pediatric nurse, I had a 15-year-old patient under my care who we were treating for infection. The patient called me into the room several times within an hour with various concerns. Even though I was falling behind in my scheduled care of other patients, I sat down with him to ask how he was feeling. It turned out that he was worried about his situation and not used to being away from home. I spent a few minutes asking about his pets at home and brought him an extra snack. After that, he went to sleep and no longer called repeatedly during the remainder of his treatment. I learned to look beyond patients' attitudes for underlying concerns.”

3. How do you handle workplace stress?

It’s standard to experience fast-paced workflows and complex tasks in the medical field. Because of this, it’s important to have a clear explanation of how you handle the emotionally and physically demanding aspects of your job. To answer this question, describe the techniques you’ve developed for stress relief. You can discuss hobbies, support groups, exercise regimens and other ways you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Example: “During my nurse training, I attended a seminar where the speaker encouraged nurses to develop and maintain habits that support our health. She recommended finding a physical activity or hobby to pursue as a way to reduce stress. I took her advice and found a gym that offers a variety of classes, so there is always something new to try. I also volunteer at an animal shelter. I find that these two hobbies effectively relieve my stress.”

4. What do you do if your replacement does not arrive?

Nurses are required to stay at their post until the next shift nurse arrives. This shift change is to ensure there are no lapses in the quality of service provided by the nursing staff. When a replacement doesn’t arrive on time, some solutions you can offer to this situation include contacting your replacement while you stay for a few minutes beyond your shift or finding someone else to cover the responsibilities before your co-worker arrives. You can talk to your supervisor if there is a problem or your replacement is late on more than one occasion.

Example: “In my last position in the ICU at City Hospital, I could not find my replacement one night. It was the end of my long shift and I was ready to go home. I spoke to my supervisor and we were able to make changes to fit his schedule better so I would not have to stay late after my shift was over.”

Read more: Learn About Being a Nurse Manager

5. How would you handle a disagreement with a doctor?

When you answer this question, emphasize your interpersonal skills such as active listening, teamwork, flexibility to solve problems and the ability to follow the chain of command when necessary. In your response, mention that you will first work directly with the doctor to resolve the discrepancy. If further assistance is needed, you may need to speak to your supervisor for assistance.

Example: “I had a situation while working in the ER at a small hospital. We were understaffed on certain nights and everyone would be busy. One night, I looked over a patient's chart and the prescription did not look right. First, I called the doctor to resolve the discrepancy. The doctor confirmed the original prescription, but it still did not look right to me. At that point, I decided to discuss it with my supervisor. When the three of us reviewed the prescription together, the doctor did eventually realize there was an error. We were able to correct the prescription and provide the patient with the right treatment.”

6. Describe how you manage a busy workload

When you respond to this question, highlight your dedication to attending to your patients during a variety of conditions. In your response, you can provide an example of a time that you managed an increased number of tasks without compromising protocols or procedures.

Example: “There was an instance where we were understaffed on a weekend during the holiday season and also had more patients than usual. I worried that we would have long delays in attending to our patients because of the staffing situation. I offered to stay a couple of hours longer that day as did some of my co-workers to cover the remaining shifts. Throughout the day, our team worked together and communicated to each other if we needed help or a break. Ultimately, we were able to take care of all the tasks.”

7. Do you have any professional affiliations?

Your response to this question is an opportunity to emphasize that you seek opportunities to advance your skills. This is a good time to highlight any areas on your resume that list extra certifications you have gained through these organizations, ways you are involved in the organizations and certain areas of nursing you are passionate about.

Example: “I am a member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators and the American Assisted Living Nurses Association. I am passionate about geriatric care and I make sure to keep my knowledge current in areas that will benefit the geriatric patients in my care. I completed a class in February through the American Association of Diabetes Educators that enabled me to improve the care I provided to a patient who was struggling with his dietary requirements. I was able to provide him with resources to develop a system he was happy with.”

8. How would you handle a crisis such as an outbreak?

Your response to this question should demonstrate your hard skills such as your knowledge of how to address specific medical situations and soft skills like teamwork and adaptability. For a strong answer, discuss your ability to collaborate, your in-depth knowledge of nursing procedures and your attention to detail.

Example: "In my last role as a public health nurse at the city's health department, I noticed an unusually high number of patients coming in with similar symptoms. I lead a team to collect and analyze the data. It turned out that there was a small outbreak in our city. Because of our team reporting, the staff in our facility detected the symptoms and followed standard infection control precautions. Authorities were able to alert the public for symptoms to watch out for. I feel our team did a great job observing our patients and reporting the incidents."

9. How would you handle a patient who struggles with pain management?

Empathy is a vital skill for nurses to use when interacting with patients who may be dealing with pain. Express that you take your patient's concerns seriously and provide an example that shows you can help them through empathy and problem-solving.

Example: “During my time with obstetrics and gynecology at City Hospital, I remember a patient who was experiencing pain during pregnancy. I suggested different sleeping positions and stretches, but they did not help her. In that case, I reported the information to her doctor who was able to recommend further treatment. The next time she came in, she was excited to report that the treatment was working and she rarely experienced any more pain. In other settings, I have been able to offer comfort measures to patients like extra pillows or help with the television while they wait for their doctor to arrive. I always take patients seriously when they tell me about discomfort.”

Read more: Interview Question: "Why Do You Want to Be a Nurse?"

10. How do you respond when people ask for your personal diagnosis outside of the clinical setting?

As a medical professional, you may encounter friends who seek your advice on what to do about their medical concerns. It’s best to refer people to medical professionals who can provide a thorough exam, diagnosis and treatment. To answer this question, briefly discuss how you tell these friends how important it is to seek medical advice in a clinical setting from medical professionals who have access to information from tests.

Example: “I have a family friend who would ask me about symptoms he was having and what I thought he should do. After I told him that I could not give him a diagnosis outside of the clinic where I worked, he finally made an appointment to see the doctor there. While it would have been convenient for him to get feedback from me, it’s always best to treat patients in a holistic, professional manner so we have all the right information to do what is best for them.”

More questions to anticipate in a nursing interview

In addition to expecting questions directly related to the field of nursing, you should also prepare to answer these common interview questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • How would you uphold the mission and values of this organization?

  • What makes you want to work for our organization?

  • What experience do you have in this specialty?

  • What makes you a good candidate for this position?

  • How would your coworkers describe you?

  • What is your biggest strength and weakness?

  • Describe a time that you stepped up as a leader.

  • What are your career goals in the next few years?

  • Why are you leaving your previous position?

Questions to ask the employer

In most interviews, the employer will ask, “Do you have any questions for us?” Prepare at least one or two questions for the interviewer. This gives you a chance to determine if the position is the right fit for you and shows your genuine interest in the position and company.

Here are some questions to consider asking an interviewer:

  • What is the training outline for new employees?

  • What does a typical day look like for this role?

  • How is performance measured?

  • Which qualities and skills prove most successful for this position?

  • What growth opportunities are available to nurses?

  • What kind of continuing education is provided?

  • What is your leadership style?

  • How can I best prepare for this type of role?

  • What is the culture of this company?

  • What are the next steps in the interviewing process?

How to prepare for your nursing interview

Once you have your interview questions prepared, take some extra steps to prepare for your interview, including:

  • Familiarize yourself with the job role and description. Be prepared to outline your experience relevant to the role or the skills that could make you successful.

  • Review the company mission and values. Taking the time to research the company values shows that you have a vested interest in the organization.

  • Have additional copies of your resume on hand. If interviewing in person, bring copies of your resume for the hiring team to review. If you are interviewing virtually, an extra copy of your resume can be used to reference during the interview.

  • Perform a mock interview. Ask a friend or family member to conduct a practice interview so that you feel more comfortable during the real thing.

  • Arrive early. If the interview is in person, review the driving directions and allow time for traffic and other unexpected events. If the interview is virtual, prepare your microphone and video camera in advance and be sure to sit in a quiet, clean and distraction-free environment.

  • Dress appropriately. Wear business attire that is clean, fits well and has no wrinkles.

  • Take time to relax. Preparing for an interview can be tiresome, so take some time to calm your nerves before the day of the actual interview. This will allow you to think more clearly and be your authentic self.

  • Use the STAR Method. The STAR method can be helpful to keep in mind during professional interviews. Consider forming responses to interview questions using this method to provide structure and authenticity to your answers:

Situation: Explain the background of your example.
Task: Explain what your role was in the situation.
Action: Explain what action you took to address the issue.
Result: Explain what you learned from the situation and any positive results for the people involved and your company.

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