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RN Tips for Teaching Patients

Did you know that most patients forget a large percentage of discharge instructions?1 Or that almost half of what they do remember is wrong?1 If you want to know how you can improve your patient’s health literacy, read on for tips you can use in your patient teaching.

Why is Patient Teaching Important?

Teaching your patients helps them understand their own health and what they need to do to care for themselves. This leads to better patient health and self-management, and increases patient satisfaction.1 It can also reduce readmissions, especially those from complex diseases like diabetes, and stroke.

How to Teach Patients as a Nurse

Assess Patient Learning Needs

As a nurse, we start every process by assessing. In the case of patient education, you want to assess their learning needs. What type of learner are they? Some patients may learn better by listening, reading, videos, or hands-on skills demonstrations. What is their preferred language? If it isn’t English, use a certified medical interpreter and translated educational materials. Be sure to check if they need any accommodations for a disability.

Create a Learning Environment

Think back to a time when you were studying. What made a study session successful? Many people need to get “in the zone” before they can focus. It’s almost impossible to learn anything if there’s a lot of distracting noises or you’re hungry for pizza. Take some steps to help make it easier for your patient to focus.

Reduce Distractions

If any alarms are beeping, such as an IV pump, address the alarms. Help reduce traffic of people entering and exiting the room. Turn off the TV or music playing.

Provide Comfort and Pain Relief

Help make your patient comfortable. Check if they need to eat anything or use the bathroom. If they have pain, provide pain relief as appropriate. This may be pain medication, ice, or other measures. Assist them into a seated position where they can see any printed material you have.

Involve Your Patient’s Support System

Find out who your patient’s support system is. This may be family, friends, or caregivers. Involve their support person in your teaching. If you’re teaching your patient about reducing salt in their diet, include the one who cooks at home. Having a second person there can help your patient understand complex healthcare plans. 

Use Simple Language

Many times when you’re with a patient, it’s because they’re feeling sick or in pain. Or maybe they just received bad news. This makes it extra hard to grasp complex topics. Use simple language and avoid medical jargon when teaching.1 Even if you think something is obvious, chances are that’s because you spent years studying health. 

Educational Resources and Teaching Methods

If you use more than one form of teaching, it can help a patient understand the topic. Check what resources are available in your health setting. Here are some common ways to present information:

  • Verbal Explanation

  • Videos

  • Printed Material

  • Health System App

  • Hands-On Demonstration

Try combining multiple forms of teaching together. You can provide printed materials while you give a verbal explanation. Set your patient up with educational videos to reinforce the topic. 

You can choose different types of teaching methods depending on the situation. A hands-on skills demonstration is useful for learning how to give injections. Then, help the patient perform the skill themself. A younger patient may like to read educational materials on the health system’s app. Ask your patient how they would like to receive the information. 


Repetition over several days helps patients remember information.3 If admitted in the hospital, start education during admission and continue teaching each day. It is overwhelming for the patient to hear everything for the first time at discharge.

Evaluate Patient Understanding

How do you know your teaching is effective? You need to be able to evaluate your efforts. After educating your patient, ask them to explain to you in their own words what they learned.1 This is called teach-back. It allows you to clarify any misunderstandings or reiterate important points they missed. It also helps solidify for the patient what they learned.


Patient teaching is an essential part of nursing. Assess the learning needs of your patient. Create a learning environment that includes your patient’s support system. Use simple language and a variety of educational resources to help patients understand. Repeat the main points of teaching over several days if you can. Check for patient understanding by using teach-back. These tips can help improve your patient’s understanding and retention of what you teach. 


  1. Yen PH, Leasure AR. Use and Effectiveness of the Teach-Back Method in Patient Education and Health Outcomes. Fed Pract. 2019;36(6):284-289.

  1. Macido A. A Nurse-Led Inpatient Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support Program to Improve Patient Knowledge and Treatment Adherence. J Health Educ Teach. 2019;10(1):1-10.

  1. Newland P, Sargent R, Van Aman MN, Hamilton K, Hendricks-Ferguson VL. Use of Video Education with Hospitalized Acute Stroke Patients: A Literature Review. Medsurg Nurs. 2023;32(2):106-117.

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