4 Tips to Consider When Dealing with Difficult Patients

4-tips-to-consider-when-dealing-with-difficult-patients-bpIt’s an inevitable fact that all patients are different. You will never most likely come across two patients that are exactly alike. People have varying personalities, quirks, likes and dislikes, and most importantly varying illnesses. Because of this, you will come across difficult patients during your nursing career. Knowing how to handle such patients can make a huge difference.

Here are 4 tips to consider when dealing with difficult patients.

1. Active listening is key.

Miscommunication can be a huge source of difficulty with patients. Listening is not enough when it comes to communicate with patients. As a nurse, you must show your patients that you are actively listening to what they are saying.

Lanette from Nurse Together suggests “let [your patients] know that you are listening by maintaining eye contact. It’s been said that approximately 80% of our communication is nonverbal. Don’t stand with arms crossed, don’t look at your watch as if you have someplace else more important to be, etc. Also, watch for the patient’s nonverbal cues.”1

2. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget the position your patient is in. As a nurse, it’s important to be empathetic to your patients and really try to understand what they are dealing with. “He’s sick. He’s uncomfortable. He’s frustrated. He’s frightened. He may feel that he isn’t getting enough attention from caregivers or that people aren’t listening to his concerns. It’s not his choice to be a patient. It is our choice to be a nurse,” Lanette says.1

3. Make sure to set boundaries.

One of the most important things to remember when dealing with difficult patients is that you need to set boundaries. You need to let your patients know early on what they can and cannot expect from you, as well as how they can and cannot act towards you.

According to Jacksonville University, “when it comes to difficult patients who make seemingly endless or unreasonable demands, a useful approach is to set limits. Let them know you will check on them again in 15 minutes or a half hour, and then follow through. In some situations, you’ll need to set boundaries to keep yourself safe. Doing so can help avoid escalating anger.”2

4. Don’t take things personally.

People tend to say and do things they normally wouldn’t when they are frustrated, upset or going through a hard time. It’s important to remember not to take your patient’s reactions personally. This will only lead to mental and emotional distress that will affect your work.

Jacksonville University recommends, “Take a moment to let those feelings go, so your whole day isn’t ruined. Take a deep, cleansing breath and as you exhale, let out all the stress and anger. Remind yourself that nursing is not easy, but you have the strength and skill to handle whatever difficulties come your way. Acknowledge that this will pass, and that you’ll feel much better if you shake it off.”2 While it may take a little practice to master dealing with difficult patients, it isn’t impossible.

How do you handle situations with difficult patients? Tell us in the comments below!


  1. http://www.nursetogether.com/professional-nursing- dealing-with- difficult-patients
  2. https://www.jacksonvilleu.com/resources/nursing/difficult-patients/#.WDS7DKIrKAw