How to Deal With Difficult Patients in Healthcare

As a nurse, you inevitably will have to deal with difficult patients from time to time. To help, familiarize yourself with these proven strategies that are guaranteed to make these situations easier to handle.

Healthcare professionals deal with all types of people. They often treat people of varied personalities, and of all stages of life. Some patients are not hard to deal with. They’re polite, soft-spoken, and cheerful. Others are slightly more negative, usually due to illness or just plain moodiness. Knowing how to deal with difficult patients in healthcare, ultimately, will help prepare you for a long-lasting and successful career.

But then there are those that are not merely negative; they’re downright difficult to deal with. Whether it’s that this patient has a tendency to get violent when upset, or throws full-blown temper tantrums when it’s time to take their meds, these patients are often not as enjoyable to treat. Sometimes, you may even feel that you just can’t do it; it’s too difficult and too tiring.

But before you quit and toss your nursing shoes to the back of your closet and throw out your scrub pants, it’s important to consider ways to better deal with difficult patients. There are quite a number of proven strategies that have helped many experienced medical professionals to endure these trying episodes relatively easily, and sometimes even win the patient over so that he’ll never push your buttons like that again.

Here are a few of your options to get through such ordeals:

Be Confident

In life, if you want people to respect you and listen to what you say, you need the confidence to back your words. Individuals in authoritative positions, such as teachers, CEOs, and healthcare professionals, who are lacking this crucial characteristic and aren’t aware of the adage, “Fake it till you make it,” often have trouble getting those under their leadership to follow their directions. When you have a difficult patient that you need to deal with, take care to ensure that you’re projecting confidence. If you believe you’re a source of authority, your difficult patients are likely to feel the same way.

Stay Calm

When dealing with difficult patients, the calmer you can be, the calmer your patient is likely to be. It's hard to have an argument with someone who remains maddeningly calm. If you have a patient who tries to press your buttons, it may be hard to remain impassive, or even just outwardly so, but do your best. This will allow your patient to simmer down, or at least see that however negative or boiling mad he’s feeling isn’t going to change you in the least, so he won’t feel like working himself up as much.

Don’t Take It Personally

Understand that you’re not the problem. Some patients, for many different reasons, will be difficult and stubborn with nurses. If a patient tells you that you’re totally uncaring and undevoted, even though you’re doing your absolute best to help this individual to recover, still, remember: it’s not you, you’re not at fault. It’s the patient.

How to Deal With Difficult Patients i...

Stay Cheerful

A patient’s mood can sometimes be a reflection of the professionals, to an extent. And when you come into the patient’s room with a smile on your face and a cheerful demeanor, you may just get a smile in return! And even if you don’t at first, just keep smiling. Many patients appreciate having a happy person around during trying times.

An added benefit of smiling is that it can trick your brain into feeling happier, so if you’re feeling down yourself, smiling at your patients can lift your own spirits!

Feel for Them

When trying to figure out how to deal with difficult patients, empathy can go a long way. A patient can be going through an extremely difficult life circumstance. Before judging a patient, keep this in mind. No matter who the person is and what his background may be, he’s going through a difficult time, and you’re not seeing him at his best.


Through implementing all or most of these strategies during your interactions with difficult patients, when things flare up, you’ll have an easier time calming things down, and besides, it’s quite likely that the patient will be impressed by your self-respect, and will consequently be less likely to treat you disrespectfully.

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