Kai Dickerson
Community Specialist
Posted April 30, 2021

17 most common nursing interview questions (with example answers)

Learn how to give perfect answers to questions like "Why did you become a nurse?" or "How do you deal with difficult patients?"
Kai Dickerson
Community Specialist
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17 most common nursing interview questions (with example answers)
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If you’ve chosen a career in nursing, you’re in luck.

Registered nursing (RN) is expected to be one of the top professions in terms of job growth over the next decade, with 175,900 openings for nurses each year.

You’ll have plenty of job opportunities as a nurse, but to land your dream nursing job, you’ll still have to get past the interview.

Nursing interviews can be tough. While they include many of the same elements as other job interviews, nurses are also asked a lot of questions specific to their role.

As with all interviews, the important thing is to be prepared. This article will introduce the most common nursing interview questions and tell you how to answer them in a way that makes a great impression.

What are the qualities of a good nurse?

A lot is expected of nurses.

You need to have a wealth of knowledge, extensive training, patience and compassion for your patients, and excellent communication skills.

The interviewer will be trying to find out if you have qualities like:

Strong interpersonal skills

Nurses have to work together with doctors, fellow nurses, and other hospital staff every day in an environment that can be stressful. If the nurse doesn’t have the skills to collaborate with others, it will affect patient care.

Nurses also have to communicate effectively with patients and treat them with compassion — even when those patients are being difficult.

The ability to remain calm under pressure

Nursing is a high-pressure profession. Patients trust you to look after their health and lives. Although it’s also a very rewarding job, it’s not easy.

To do your job well as a nurse, you have to be able to remain calm and work effectively despite the stress.

Attention to detail

A good nurse is detail-oriented. They follow instructions perfectly, keep accurate records, and administer correct medications.

There’s no room for slip-ups when it comes to patient care.

Flexibility

As a nurse, every day is different. Many nurses enjoy that they get to have new experiences and learn new things all the time.

But if you dislike unpredictability, nursing isn’t your best choice. You’ll have to change and adapt to new developments as you work.

You might also have to work at unconventional times, like weekends or nights.

Clinical skills and experience

Of course, none of these soft skills qualify you to be a nurse without the proper training and technical skills. The interviewer will want to know about your experience and education.

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Nursing interview tips

Preparation is key to acing your nursing interview. Putting in the work before the big day will help you be more relaxed so that you can give great answers to interview questions.

Do your research

You should know as much as possible about the healthcare organization where you’re interviewing. Understanding its particular mission can help you prepare responses that resonate with the hiring manager.

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Brainstorm anecdotes and examples

Nursing interviews are heavy on questions about real-life experiences as a nurse. Think about some situations in which you went above and beyond. Look at the list above of the qualities of a good nurse. How have you demonstrated each of those?

For example, for “attention to detail,” you could talk about a time when noticing a small detail about a patient’s health helped you provide the best care.

Practice your interview question answers

Go through the list below of common nurse interview questions and come up with answers for each one. Then practice saying them. If you have a friend or family member who can help you out, hold a practice interview. If you’re practicing on your own, you should still say the answers aloud as if it’s a real interview.

You shouldn’t memorize your responses — it’s important to sound natural. Just have an idea of the main points you want to make for each interview question’s answer.

You’ve already provided your resume to the potential employer, but don’t assume they’ll have a copy on hand.

Bring a few copies of your printed resume to the interview so your interviewer(s) can reference it.

Dress for success

At work, nurses live in scrubs, but for an interview, you should dress professionally. Long-term care facilities tend to be less formal than hospitals, but you should still choose an outfit that’s at least business casual.

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Make sure you look clean and well-groomed. Avoid wearing perfume or cologne to the interview.

General job interview questions

Many questions in a nursing interview are specific to healthcare, but you should also expect to be asked standard questions like:

Even for these general questions, keep your strengths as a nurse in mind. For example, when you answer the “tell me about yourself” question, mention character traits, interests, or skills that make you an excellent nurse.

Interview questions about you

The interviewer will try to get a sense of who you are as a person, your career goals, and whether you’re a good fit for the organization.

Here’s what you should keep in mind while answering each question.

Why did you choose a career in nursing?

For many nurses, the answer is that they want to help people.

That’s a great reason, but to stand out from the crowd, you’ll have to get more specific. Consider adding details about what inspired you to be a nurse.

Interviewers want to see that you’re passionate and dedicated to the job. What makes you love nursing? If you have a personal connection to nursing, like a family member who’s a nurse or experience being cared for by a nurse, you could discuss that. Personal stories and details make you stand out as a candidate.

What aspect of your job do you look forward to the most? Try to connect your personal traits to your interest in nursing.

Sample answer to “Why did you choose a career in nursing?”

When I was a kid, I had a brief illness and had to stay in the hospital. The nurses were the ones who made me feel better and brightened my day. I love the idea of being able to help people during difficult times.

Nursing is also exciting to me because I get to learn so many new things and get to know all kinds of people.

Do you work well with other nurses, doctors, and staff? Do you like working as a team?

Nursing requires teamwork.

The interviewer wants to know that you can work well with others. More importantly, they want to know that you like working with your coworkers and patients.

Every interviewee will tell the recruiter or hiring manager that they’re a team player. To stand out, you need to prove it. Think of a specific time when you worked with others and achieved a positive outcome through teamwork. For example, maybe you collaborated with a dietician to plan meals for a patient with food intolerances.

How do you handle stress?

Nursing can be stressful, You deal with physical fatigue from long hours on your feet and mental fatigue that comes from witnessing human suffering and even death.

But you have to carry on with a positive attitude. The interviewer wants to know how you do so.

There’s no right answer to this question. Just give honest examples of how you manage stressful situations. You can emphasize that you don’t let the stress affect you while you’re working with patients — you deal with it on your own time. For example, you might cope by joining a support group or getting involved with a relaxing hobby.

Do you have experience with (specific procedure)?

Expect questions about your technical skills, not just your personality or behavior.

If you do have experience with the procedure, this question is easy.

If you don’t, that’s okay. Just answer honestly. You can also emphasize that you would be eager to learn new skills.

Questions about nursing

These questions are designed to discover how you view your job as a nurse and what you consider excellent nursing.

What are the best and worst parts of nursing?

We all have things we love and things we hate about our jobs.

Hopefully, it’s easy to talk about the best parts. Use this question as an opportunity to express your passion for the work.

While it’s okay to admit that certain parts of nursing are tiring, tedious, or stressful, you should also talk about how you deal with those aspects of the job.

Sharing your favorite and least favorite parts of nursing helps an interviewer see if you’re a good fit for the position. For example, if your favorite part of the job is helping people in need, they’ll know you’re a caring and empathetic person. However, if you say the worst part is the fast pace, the interviewer might not think you’re the right candidate for a busy department.

Sample answer for “What are the best and worst parts of nursing?”

The most rewarding part of my job is the relationships I build with patients and their families. I’ve met so many interesting people, and I’ve had the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

The worst part is seeing those same people suffer. Sometimes we do everything we can for a patient, and we can’t save them. When that happens, I have to remind myself of all the times I’ve helped someone go on to live a healthy life.

What makes a good nurse?

The interviewer wants to see that you understand what’s important in the field of nursing.

Take a look at our list of the qualities of a good nurse, or think about some nurses you’ve admired and what made them great. For example

  • Empathy for patients

  • Strong listening skills

  • A passion for the job

  • A good bedside manner

Which of these qualities are the most meaningful to you? You can also give examples of times you’ve seen other nurses do superior work.

In your opinion, what’s the best approach to patient care?

It’s always best to make your answer personal. Describe how you approach patient care or give examples of great patient care that you’ve seen.

Behavioral interview questions

Behavioral questions are a huge part of any nursing interview. The interviewer wants to know what you’re actually like on the job.

If you have prior experience, you should try to back up your answers with real-life examples. If you’re new to the profession, you can talk about what you would do in each situation.

Tell me about a time you had a very difficult patient. What did you do?

Here’s an unfortunate fact about nursing: 54% of nurses have been verbally assaulted or bullied by a patient. While employers should try to protect you from these extreme cases, even patients who are friendly people on a good day can get belligerent when they have health issues.

The interviewer wants to know that you can stay calm and deal with an unpleasant situation. Don’t make this question into a vent session about a difficult patient — focus your response on how you helped them.

Sample answer to “Tell me about a time you had a very difficult patient.”

I had a patient who got upset every time I tried to administer care. I tried to empathize and understand where the patient was coming from.

After talking to the patient and his family, it was clear that he’d had negative experiences with healthcare in the past and that his emotional response was due to fear of what he didn’t understand.

From then on, I made sure to take extra time to explain why I was doing what I was doing and how it would help him, even for simple procedures like changing a bandage.

How would you handle a disagreement with a doctor?

Remember, the interviewer wants to know that you enjoy working with others and are good at it. You should also make it clear that you respect the medical opinions of the doctors you work with.

Sample answer to “How would you handle a disagreement with a doctor?”

I’m lucky in that I’ve almost always been on the same page with the doctors I work with. If I did disagree with one, I would go into the discussion with the knowledge that we both have the patient’s best interests at heart.

I would clearly communicate my point of view and try to understand the doctor’s. I know that we each have our own perspectives on the situation. Hopefully, we would be able to reach a conclusion by working together. If not, I would ask for guidance from a supervisor.

How would you handle a crisis at work?

Crisis situations are just part of the job for nurses, especially if you work in a high-stakes environment, like an ER.

The best answer, as usual, is a real-life example. Emphasize how you remained steady under pressure and worked effectively in a tough situation. The best answers to behavioral questions also include a positive result. For example, you kept patients calm or helped bring an end to a crisis.

Tell me about a time you stepped into a leadership role.

If you’ve been a nurse or even a nurse manager for a while, you might have a lot of experience with leadership. Remember that leadership and management aren’t the same things. Don’t just talk about supervising other employees; talk about your leadership style and how it got good results.

If you’re newer to nursing, you can talk about a leadership role you’ve had outside of work or when you were in school.

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

This question is about listening to your patients. Emphasize that you talk to your patients’ about the nature of their pain and take their concerns seriously.

It’s also about problem-solving. If the standard solution doesn’t work, what do you do?

As usual, focus on real-life stories. The best example would be a time when you tried multiple tactics to help a patient and eventually landed on one with a positive outcome.

Tell me about a time a patient or their family was dissatisfied with your care. What did you do?

Many patients and their families feel grateful to their nurses — it’s a rewarding part of the profession. But sometimes, a patient or family member is left feeling unhappy.

Your example for this question should be a time when you:

  • Took the time to understand and empathize with the complaint

  • Stayed calm, even while being criticized

  • Clearly explained your decisions

  • Reassured the patient or family member

If you haven’t had this experience yet, explain how you think you would react.

How do you communicate with people who don't understand medical jargon? Give an example.

Communication skills are so important for nurses.

You understand the jargon and technical terms that medical professionals are throwing around, but your patients usually don’t, and it can be a scary experience for them.

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When you talk about how you “translate” medical terms into everyday language, you can also emphasize the things you do to put the patient at ease.

Be prepared: Some interviewers even ask you to do this on the spot. They’ll provide some clinical terms and ask how you would explain them to a patient.

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

As a healthcare provider, it’s inevitable that friends and family will start asking you for your medical opinion. And you love helping people, so you might be eager to give them advice.

If this is general medical advice or advice on which doctor to see, it’s no problem. But some kinds of “help,” like making a diagnosis or prescribing medicine, are unethical and dangerous.

This interview question is asked to see if you understand the boundaries of the advice you should be giving.

Sample answer for “How do you respond when people ask for your personal diagnosis outside of a clinical setting?”

I once had a friend ask me what to do about the chest pains he was having. I told him that it was a serious symptom that could have many causes and that he should see a doctor. Then I gave him the name of a nearby urgent care facility he could go to.

What would you do if you saw someone administering improper patient care?

Would you try to solve the problem or look the other way?

85% of Americans consider nurses honest and ethical — the highest rating of any profession. To honor that trust in you, you have to be willing to stand up for all patients.

When an interviewer asks this question, they’re looking for two things. First, that you would do something in this situation shows that you care about your patients and will act with integrity.

Secondly, the interviewer is testing your interpersonal skills. If you see another nurse doing something incorrectly, how do you confront them? Do you approach this scenario calmly and help the other nurse understand the correct procedure?

Tell me about a time when you were completely overwhelmed by your workload. What did you do?

Nurses are busy people. Sometimes too busy.

The interviewer wants to see if you’ve developed strategies for dealing with an intense workload. For example, you can talk about prioritization, organization, time management, and how you deal with stress.

Emphasize that patient care is always your primary goal and that you don’t let a heavy workload interfere with doing what’s right for each patient.

Questions to ask the interviewer

Asking questions of the interviewer demonstrates your enthusiasm for the job. It also helps you determine whether the organization is a good fit for you.

Here are just a few of the many questions you can ask an interviewer:

  • What does a typical day look like for a nurse in this position?

  • What kind of training is provided for new employees?

  • What do you consider the biggest challenge of this position?

  • Which qualities and skills are you looking for in a candidate?

  • What growth opportunities are available to nurses here?

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Ace your nursing interview

Prepare well for your interview, and you’re sure to make a great impression.

Remember that nursing interviews include many behavioral questions, so be ready with your anecdotes and examples. It’s not always easy to remember the things we did at past jobs, so go through the entire list of questions in this article and brainstorm relevant stories.

You’re well on your way to landing your dream nursing job. For more job application and interview tips, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.

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Kai Dickerson
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Lilah Pierce

These graphics are so engaging

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