BACKGROUND: Although the effectiveness of communication between nurses and ventilated patients has been identified by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses as an area of concern, there are few reports of research in this area. OBJECTIVES: To examine the interactions between nurses and patients on ventilators and the relationship between characteristics of these nurses and their communication with patients. METHODS: An analytical, cross-sectional, experimental design was used to examine the work experience of 30 nurses with ventilated patients, the perceived level of consciousness of their ventilated patients, and the actions and reactions of nurses in relation to these patients. RESULTS: Significant correlations were found between the nurse's perception of the patient's degree of responsiveness and the number of positive and negative interactions with the patient, and between the length of time the nurse cared for the patient and the number of positive nurse reactions. Interaction patterns are also apparent from the data collected. CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that nurses' perceptions of patients' responsiveness and length of time nurses care for patients will influence nurse-patient interactions. Patterns of interaction suggest that nurses spend more time providing patients with information that the nurses consider important, rather than assessing or responding to patients' needs.