Hospital Etiquette

By Dennis Wiggs

Since pastors spend a great deal of time visiting church members who are patients, proper hospital etiquette is essential. It is most important to minister professionally, compassionately, and purposefully in the hospital room. Consider the following simple dos and don’ts.

Don’t Do These

Don’t sit on the bed. Don’t even touch the bed. Don’t stay too long. Don’t talk about yourself. Don’t complain about your own illnesses. Don’t quote Romans 8:28. Patients have told me that nearly everyone cites this verse. Don’t visit if you are sick. Make a telephone call and explain why you did not visit.

Don’t stand on the oxygen tube, eat the patient’s food, or pour yourself a cup of water. Don’t ask the nurse to take your blood pressure. Don’t fall asleep in the chair while the patient is talking.

Do These Instead

Dress professionally, preferably suit and tie. Pray before you enter the hospital, ask the Lord to use you effectively. Park your vehicle on the opposite side of the parking lot. Walking is good exercise. Place a mint in your mouth. Smile! Say good morning or good afternoon to everyone, including doctors and nurses. Be kind—never demanding—to the employee at the information desk.

Walk the steps (excellent exercise) to the patient’s floor. Knock semi-loudly on the door and wait for a response. Open the door slowly. Clearly identify yourself. Often patients are medicated, hard of hearing, or visually impaired. Always ask if it is convenient to visit at that particular time. If not, back out and return later. Speak optimistically to the patient. Stay in the room 15 minutes or less unless the patient is near death.

Introduce yourself to everyone in the room. Talk openly about spiritual matters. Pray, remembering the patient and the visitors by name. Leave a card or a church brochure with your name and telephone number on it. Patients often forget you visited.

Keep a record of the name of the person visited and room number. Wash your hands immediately for your safety but also for the safety of the next patient you visit.

A Valuable Ministry

One of the most effective pastoral ministries is visiting church members and others in the hospital. But fruitful visits demand preparation. Maybe the young preacher ought to ask himself how he would like to be visited. What would be his expectations? What would be offensive? Because this is such a valuable ministry, much study should be given on how to be as effective as possible. Hospitals often offer seminars on the subject.


Sometimes the atmosphere may not be conducive for praying. A loud television or other visitors talking loudly may cause you to consider not praying. But under most circumstances, it good—even expected—to pray. (The Lord can hear you over the television.) Remember that visiting patients in the hospital is a ministry. Your visit may be the only one they remember. Once, I visited a church member in the hospital’s intensive care unit. The lady seemed to be unconscious. I read Psalm 23 and prayed over her. Later, she testified that the only thing she remembered in that critical care room was my reading God’s Word and praying for her!

About the Writer:Dennis Wiggs retired in 2004 after many years in ministry.

Adapted from Contact magazine, September 1999.