5 Effective Ways to Deal With Difficult Patients


A nurse’s road to fulfillment is not always dominated by grateful and gentle patients. One can’t call herself a nurse unless if she accepts the fact that dealing with grumpy, over demanding, and ill-tempered patients every once in a while is quite inevitable in one’s nursing career. Patients come and go to the hospital in dire need of a holistic approach for their health concerns. And because nurses are usually assigned with heavy workloads on a daily basis, dealing with difficult patients can be a lot more taxing than we thought. But with the right combination of KSA (knowledge, skills, and attitude), and by following these 5 timely tips on dealing with difficult patients, one can breeze through daily nursing tasks with fulfillment:

1. Set your expectations. 

Every patient is unique so you have to remember that there’s no uniform patient response for a particular problem. One’s dead end may be an opportunity for another. But it really pays to identify who are those candidates at risk for behaving negatively towards difficult health situations. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, ESRD, drug abuse cases, or other terminal conditions have all the prerequisites for a possible adverse emotional reactions. Through careful observation and being extra sensitive while dealing with this type of patients, you will be able to  draw the  boundaries and  fully understand that these patients are not being difficult for unknown reasons. Proper identification of patients with special needs and support will also allow a nurse to plan an individualized approach in caring for these individuals.

2. Develop a clear understanding of your patient’s situation. 

Simply put, don’t be more impatient than your patient. More often than not, those patients that are difficult to deal with have underlying problems which is up to you if you will address it or not. They are usually overwhelmed by an array of negative emotions varying from anxiety, depression, up to  fear of the unknown. These emotions eventually translate into unpredictable anger, mood swings and unrealistic requests to nurses and relatives. A cancer patient, for example, has a lot of issues to be dealt with at the same time.  “Cancer patients often feel betrayed, particularly if they are also feeling isolated and stressed by switching from competent caregiver to losing control over their life, spouse and children when illness strikes,” says Christine Simms, RN, MSN in an article published in Nursinglink website. As agents of health, we have to understand that patients come to hospitals  not by their choice while nurses joined the profession out of their own personal choice. See the difference? That’s one of the reasons  why having a clear understanding of your patient’s unique situation is a must, regardless if you hate them or not. Besides, you didn’t studied Psychiatric Nursing during college days for nothing.

3. Communication is the key.

You have to deal and care for your patients no matter what kind of temperament they have. Using positive verbal and non-verbal communication, will not only improve their perception about you, it will also help them recover faster in the long run. Remember, an assurance that you will always be there for the patient will help solve an emotional issue deeply rooted in the patient’s fear that they will be neglected and left behind.

4. Asses yourself.

Remember the principles of countertransference and transference? Well, the former is simply defined as the nurse’s act of projecting bad experiences form her past to her present patient while the latter is patient’s negative behavior towards the health care provider. Countertransference is considered detrimental for a patient’s health and integrity that’s why you should not define his character based on his mood swings alone. According to a 2008 article published in the American Society of Registered Nurses website, compassionate and effective care requires objectivity. The first step is often to separate the emotions from the experience and restructure it into something that can be addressed rather than something that is only felt. 

5. Just do your job.

A difficult patient should never be used as a reason for providing a substandard nursing care. You have to accept the fact that patients, like nurses, have unique individual qualities. You can never expect that you will always meet a  goody two shoes in your  everyday nursing journey. It will help you more if you change your perception of these patients from “difficult to deal with” into “challenging opportunities” that will help you grow as a professional nurse in the long run.





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