A Nurses Guide to Dealing with Difficult Patients

In any person-oriented profession, it is inevitable that one will have to work with angry, upset, or frustrated people. This fact is especially true for anyone in the medical industry. Nurses are on the front line of patient intervention, and thus will often be the first target for any difficult patient who may be lashing out.

Being hospitalized or needing unexpected care is scary, and can lead a patient to have exaggerated emotional responses to the situation in which they find themselves. On top of that, sickness and medication can have side effects which may cause confusion or anxiety, and this will only make matters worse.It’s all part of the job, and something you as a nurse will get used to over the course of your career. Below, we’ve put together a short guide to help you navigate interactions with difficult patients.

Nurses Guide to Dealing with Difficult Patients

Don’t take it personally.

First off, it will always be easier for you to deal with a difficult patient if you do your best to remember that it’s not about you. A patient who is upset or lashing out is merely reacting to the situation, and not to you as an individual. Remind yourself that they are in an uncomfortable and likely frightening situation, and that you are there to help them. Remain calm, ground, and keep doing your job the best you can.

No really, remain calm.

Nothing will exacerbate an already difficult situation more than responding to an agitated patient in kind. Always keep your professional face on, and never blow up at a patient out of your own sense of anger and indignation. Again, it’s nothing against you. Keeping your head firmly on your shoulders will allow you to stay in control of the situation, and more effectively address the needs of the patient, and find a solution to their aggression.

Maintain empathy.

Showing concern for a patient is one of the quickest ways to calm one who is being difficult. Especially if they have been admitted to a hospital, they may feel helpless and out of control. Put yourself in their shoes, and demonstrate that you understand how they feel by listening to them with patience. Treat them as you would treat a model patient, free of judgement and with respect.

Search for and identify the root cause.

It’s possible that a patient’s adversarial behavior has an underlying cause which may require or be a result of treatment. Medication, certain illnesses, and psychological afflictions can all contribute to a patient’s unpleasant demeanor. For example, if a patient is experiencing irritability as a side effect of a medicine which they are receiving, you might be able to place them on a lower dose to mitigate the emotional symptoms. Or, a patient may be having an anxiety attack brought on by any number of sources. For more tips on helping out anxious patients, visit our article Effective Nursing Intervention for Anxiety.

Watch your body language.

It can be difficult to lose track of our posture and facial expressions in the heat of the moment, even if we are doing our best to stay calm and keep our tone pleasant. If your face, body, and voice are all saying different things, it becomes difficult for the patient to trust you and they will be less likely to listen. Face your patent when it makes sense, make eye contact if they are comfortable with it, and take deep breaths to release tension and relax your body.

Establish boundaries.

Although you are ultimately prioritizing the comfort of your patient, it is vital that you reject any abuse coming from a difficult patient, and hold them accountable for any such behavior. A patient may not address you repeatedly with profanity or an aggressive volume. If the need arises, you may choose to step away for a moment, giving them space to calm down, and letting them know that their abuse is unacceptable.

Ask for help.

If you believe that you’ve done all you can on your own to no avail, it is always okay to ask a colleague for assistance. You’re only human. Nursing is an emotionally taxing profession, and although ideally you will be well equipped with self-soothing and coping techniques, you are allowed to take a break and remove yourself from a situation if the need arises. Always remember to take care of yourself, as well as your patients.

It’s not anyone’s favorite part of nursing, but dealing with difficult patients comes with the territory. It doesn’t have to outweigh the positive aspects of the job. Following this guide, and keeping an empathetic attitude, you’ll be able to handle any rough interaction you encounter with poise and professionalism.

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If you are looking for a change of pace, check out these additional posts from Medely, How To Become a Travel Nurse, and Nurse Staffing Agencies By Location for advice and resources on shaking up your career with new sights and challenges.

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