Tips for dealing with difficult patients

October 29, 2015

For many nursing students, excitement at graduating from nursing school is often tempered by the fear of having to deal with difficult patients. Most graduates have heard stories abound about how unpleasant some patients can be, and appreciate the incredible restraint and patience required when dealing with rude behaviour. While this is an unavoidable part of the job, there are ways to deal with difficult patients without letting it get to you.

Pay attention

Anxiety and fear combined with pain or the side effects from medications can often alter patients’ moods and make them irritable and cranky. They don’t mean to be rude or ungrateful. They just can’t help it. Determining the underlying cause by giving the patient medication to alleviate the pain, or lowering the dose to reduce the side effects may help make the patient less irritable.

Don’t take it personally

It’s easy to become annoyed when dealing with a difficult patient but reacting in kind will only escalate the tension. Instead, remind yourself that the patient is not upset with you personally. It’s not about you – It’s just the patient reacting to unfortunate circumstances. Faced with a situation such as this, take a few deep breaths to regain your composure. Showing grace under pressure is part of what nursing is all about, and the best way to ease tension and get a potentially tricky situation under control. 

Connect with the patient

When on the job, it is best to keep your emotions and reactions aside and focus on your patients, not on their behaviour. Take time to connect with them. Ask them what they need. Find out where they’re hurting most. By showing that you care about them as individuals and not just another item on your to-do list, you can help defuse problems before they even get started.

Stay objective

In most settings, immediate attention is usually paid to the person shouting the loudest, whether it’s warranted or not. As a nurse, it’s important to assess your patients’ needs objectively and attend to them on the basis of genuine urgency. Patients in need of immediate attention should never be neglected because of the pressure to ‘quieten’ things down in the room.

Ask for help when you need it

It’s not uncommon for things to get out of hand, and on an especially rough day it can be even more difficult to remember all of the above. At times like these, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Sometimes, a moment’s help is all you need to regroup and pull yourself together before moving on. All of your colleagues will have been in situations like this and are sure to understand, empathise and be more than willing to help.

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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.