The job is already difficult enough as it is with calm and cooperative patients. You have medications to give, wound dressings to worry about, and tube feedings on your mind. It shouldn’t have to be harder than it already is. But don’t worry, you’ll always have the difficult patients who make your day much more challenging!

“You can’t do anything right.”

“You do such a horrible job.”

“You shouldn’t be a nurse.”

Imagine the days you would have as a nurse when the patients are noncompliant and make you feel like you should never have taken up nursing. No matter how well you juggle between your five to ten patients (perhaps more), you feel like it is never good enough. Anything you say and do is never good enough.

Just remember that you are a nurse. You show up every day for more than a paycheck. Otherwise, you could easily pick another profession for a paycheck. You CHOSE to be a nurse and you CHOSE to take care of these patients. While it is stressful on the heart and soul, just remember that you are doing the best you can.

Here are some tips to handling a challenging and difficult patient:

1. Don’t take it personally!

This sounds non-therapeutic, but it is true. The patients do not know your personality and what a great individual you are. They aren’t lashing out at you because you are this horrible person that caused them this sickness. No one wants to be in bed all day and you are the one with access to their private information. They are at your mercy and they are most likely embarrassed over it. Next time they are angry, just remember that they are more angry at themselves than at you.

2. Listen to them

With everything that you have to do, you do not have the time to listen to them. It is not that you do not care, but you have other patients to worry about. Not only that, some of your patients may be in an unstable condition and you’re just trying to save the world here. When on earth would you have the time to listen?

You do not have to listen to their entire life story, but just listen. Maybe they’re saying that they are “okay” but they really are not. If they have a visitor that stop by, try to say something along the lines such as “Who is that person to you? It seems like she or he really loves you.” You’ll be surprised to see the patient’s face light up that someone like you would notice.

3. Don’t be afraid to hold your ground

Patients will tell you that you’re not doing your job when you already know that you are following protocol and you’ve already done all that you need to do. Maybe they’ve heard bad news or whatever it is that they are going through, they are taking it out on you. Tell them the steps you’ve taken to provide the care and don’t give in to the manipulative patients, especially the ones that are in love with playing the role of a victim.

“I’m sorry that you are feeling that way right now. I’ve given you your medications, changed your wound dressing, and a sponge bath. I understand you’re not satisfied, but I will be back to give your second medication and we can discuss further about how you’re feeling.”

4. Set boundaries

Do not give in. Do not let them hurt your feelings. Your job is to provide care for the patients, not to become their best friends.

“I understand that you are not satisfied right now, but you can express your feelings with respect. I will not be spoken to in this manner. I will come back in 10 minutes and we can continue to discuss how you’re feeling with respect.”

5. Focus on keeping your cool

It would be difficult to smile and remain positive in situations like this, but the best you can do is to not elevate the situation by yelling back at your patients. Think of it like this. If a child is throwing a tantrum, do you yell at the child back? You know it would be harder to alleviate the situation by arguing back or trying to reason with the child. The best thing you can do is listen to the patient and what is provoking this anger. Maintain eye contact and use nonverbal communication to show you care.

If the situation gets out of hand or your safety is threatened, do not hesitate to call security or the police. Do not forget to document the situation!

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