6 Ways Nursing Professionals Deal with Difficult Patients

Many people don’t consider nursing to be a customer service job, but if you’ve ever worked as a nurse, you know that serving others is what the profession is really all about. Instead, though, we call them patients instead of customers. Often these patients can be somewhat difficult to deal with. They can be angry and stubborn and mean to the very people who are trying to help them.

Working with difficult patients is one of the greatest challenges of nursing. As a professional, you are expected to remain friendly, helpful, and compassionate at all times. While certain patients make this goal hard to achieve, there are a few things you can do to make working with them a bit easier for everyone.

1. Listen

As a nurse, it’s tempting to run through the checklist of things that you have to get done for the day. However, it is incredibly important to make time for patients and listen to what they have to say. When you listen, practice good eye contact. This will let the patient know you are paying attention to what he is saying. Be careful with your body language, since this will also send the patient about whether or not you are actually listening. Face the patient, maintain eye contact, and dedicate just a couple of minutes to listening. No multitasking allowed!

2. Empathy

Don’t forget that as much as you might be struggling, your patient is not having a great time either. As a nurse, you will see people at their worst. Remember that how they are acting in the hospital is not entirely indicative of who they are as a person in general. As your patient, they are ill, in pain, scared, and probably frustrated. He might be worried about his lack of insurance or when he’ll be able to get back to work. A lot of these worries can show up as meanness. Try to remember that it’s not personal and that they are in a difficult situation.

3. Stand Your Ground

Sometimes difficult patients require a firm hand. While it’s true that many challenging patients act the way they do because they are afraid or in pain, it is also true that many might just be grumps. Negative people will find a way to make everyone around them miserable, too. If you suspect this to be the case with your patient, stand your ground. Don’t give into negativity. Keep your positive attitude and keep looking on the bright side. You may not be able to change your patient, but you can keep them from changing you!

4. Document Events

Sometimes a difficult patient will remain difficult, no matter what we do. We can have all the empathy in the world, but sometimes that won’t make a difference. In cases like these, you must document any incidents that may occur with the patient. Make sure you know what your hospital or clinic’s policy is regarding documentation and stick to it. Cover yourself and try to resolve issues as they arise. If you’ve documented everything, and the situation takes a turn for the worse, things are more likely to turn out in your favor.

5. Seek Assistance

If you have done everything possible to reach the patient and mitigate any growing problems, sometimes you’ll simply need to let your supervisor know. Show them any reports of incidents that you have documented. If other nurses are familiar with your difficult patient, it’s a good idea to get their opinions and interactions down in writing as well. The more people know of the situation, the better.

6. Take Your Patient Seriously

Sometimes the patient may feel that not everything is being done to help them, or that they are being ill-treated. While it may sound like exaggeration or a bad mood (and it could be that), take the safe way out and believe their point of view. If they feel that things are going so poorly that they would like to sue the facility, that that statement seriously and report it immediately. If your patient is indicating that they are unhappy, it’s up to you to take the steps to resolve issues before legal actions are taken.

Final Thoughts

Being a nurse is a challenge. Dealing with difficult patients compounds that challenge. However, by following the above tips, you’ll be more ready to deal with these types of patients with empathy and professionalism.