Tips in Managing Difficult Patients

At least once in our nursing career, we will encounter difficult patients. No matter how we try to be patient and understand them, there will always be patients who make our lives during duty a bit less than tolerable.

However, no matter how angry we get, we still should maintain our professionalism. We should remain as respectable and professional healthcare workers. We are not allowed to shout at our patients or to even let our emotions rule over us during duty. Below are some tips on how to deal with this type of patients:

  • Start with a good first impression

Smile, use an open posture, introduce yourself, extend your hand for a handshake, look patients in the eye for 3-5 seconds. Eye contact is importantas it expresses honesty and openness. Patients are more likely to respond to the message that is coming from your body cues than your voice cues. It is best that you relax and control your body in a heated situation. Also, don’t get too close to the patient because that can be interpreted as invading their space and prompting aggression.

  • Practice personal emotional control

As said earlier, you should not let your emotions control your actions. Be aware of your emotions. Don’t react, instead, be proactive and know your triggers. Take actions that could calm you such as taking deep breaths, and speaking slowly and quietly. Then, lower your tone, and think about your body language. Always maintain an optimistic, calm and constructive state of mind.

  • Draw boundaries with angry patients

Set certain boundaries, clarify behavior that’s unacceptable and demand respect. You are not anybody’s slave here, you are a professional healthcare worker. There are patients who are unaware of how they appear to others. But in case this technique doesn’t work, such patients are sometimes asked to leave the practice.

  • Communicate with care

Conflicts and difficulties sometimes stem from misunderstandings. Do not underestimate the positive difference that good interpersonal communication skills can make in certain situations. Also, listen empathetically. Search for the patient’s agenda. Echo or paraphrase what the patient says, and even try to acknowledge their feelings. You may say “I can see you are frustrated” or “I can understand how you feel that way,” then try to discuss possible solutions with them.

  • Help your patient get emotional control

Don’t argue with your patient since arguing will lead to a spiteful cycle of attacks and retaliations. Most patients want to feel heard, understood and validated. Say “I’m here to help you and hear you out”.

  • Leave the room

If you are dealing with a violent patient and you feel that your safety is threatened, excuse yourself and leave the room. Ask help from either another colleague, or security. However, do not tell the patient or threaten them that you are getting security as this may intensify the situation.



Liane Clores, RN MAN

Currently an Intensive Care Unit nurse, pursuing a degree in Master of Arts in Nursing Major in Nursing Service Administration. Has been a contributor of Student Nurses Quarterly, Vox Populi, The Hillside Echo and the Voice of Nightingale publications. Other experience include: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Obstetric, Emergency and Recovery Room Nursing.

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