Tips for Dealing With Difficult Patients


Despite your best intentions, you will sometimes find yourself dealing with difficult patients in your role as a nurse. Some people simply won’t cooperate the way you need them to when you are caring for them, and since they’re still the boss of their own body, you can’t force what’s best for them. Nurses even face abuse from some difficult patients, which can be absolutely devastating. As trying as some patients may be, nurses still have to do their best to make sure they’re properly cared for. Arm yourself with these handy tips for dealing with the most fearful, defensive, agitated and demanding patients, and you can take your nursing performance to the next level. 

Stay Calm

The first thing you always need to do when dealing with a difficult patient is remain calm. An agitated nurse only serves as fuel for a patient’s extreme emotion. Try to keep in mind that it’s nothing personal in most cases. Whatever they say or do is likely driven mainly by anxiety and fear. If you stay calm through the situation, you’ll be better equipped to assess the situation and communicate with the patient.  

Practice Active Listening and Positivity

Patients will often act out if they feel like their needs aren’t being met — even if you’re providing excellent care. Let them know that you hear their concerns. When they tell you what’s wrong, repeat it back to them in your own words to show you understand. Remember to speak softly as well, even if the patient is going off on a loud tirade. Staying positive and polite can have a significant impact. Make sure you use the patient’s name, and ask for their input regarding solutions to their problems.  

Don’t Argue

A lot of difficult patients try to goad nurses into arguments, perhaps because they’re afraid and want to feel some kind of control, but engaging in an argument never actually helps, of course. Your opinion still matters, but don’t treat it like it’s something up for debate. You don’t have to defend yourself or the facility. Simply apologize that they’re not satisfied and emphasize that you’re working to find a solution. 

Establish Limits

Your job is to help patients. Your job is not to cater to their every demand. Make it clear that you’re not their servant there to answer their every beck and call. Just make sure you convey this information in a polite way. One effective strategy is to give them time intervals. Telling someone you’ll check on them again in half an hour is always better than telling them not to bother you for half an hour. 

Show Empathy

Empathy is essential when it comes to any kind of care, especially nursing. Try to view the situation from the patient’s perspective. When they’re being difficult, it’s usually to hide their fear or anxiety. Being in the hospital is a stressful experience for most people. Don’t meet their hostility with defensiveness. While they should know better than to be difficult with a nurse, try to understand that their situation has likely placed them in a desperate position in which they’re not exactly thinking straight.  

Don’t Let It Get to You

It’s easy to dwell on something cruel that a disgruntled patient said. It can dig at you for hours and ruin your day. While it’s okay to feel angry or hurt by something an angry patient said, you can’t let it get to you. Your feelings are valid, but they don’t have to control you. Go for a walk or take some deep breaths to let those words go. You’re a nurse, after all. You know you’re strong. You know you save people for a living. Brushing off hostile interactions will always have you feeling better than dwelling on something a frightened patient said. 

Find Your Place

Knowing how to deal with difficult patients is essential to excelling in your nursing career, but you also need to work in the right facility. At TheraEx Staffing Services, we specialize in matching nurses with facilities that will make the most of their talents. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you find a place you’ll be satisfied with and that lets your nursing skills shine.  

BlogRey Rivera