5 Ways to Deal With Difficult Patients

5-ways-to-deal-with-difficult-patients-blog-photoIn a dream world, all patients would be easy and cooperative and leave your office or clinic with a smile on their face. In reality, we know that this is not always the case. It’s inevitable that you will come across more than a few difficult patients in your nursing career. How you deal with these patients can greatly affect your well-being as well as your career.

Here is a list of 5 ways nursing professionals can deal with difficult patients.

Try to be empathetic.

Put yourself in the patient’s shoes. If they’re seeking medical attention, chances are things aren’t going great for them right now. If you can try to understand what the patient is dealing with, you will be better equipped to handle the situation.

Lanette from Nurse Together reminds us to remember what position the patient is in. “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.”1

Go beyond hearing – actually listen to what the patient is saying.

It is easy to hear what someone is telling you, but actively listening is another ball game. Let the patient know you are hearing and internalizing what they say. A patient may relax if they know you are an active participant in the conversation.

Lanette points out that a big part of active listening is body positioning. “It’s been said that approximately 80 [percent] 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.”1

Try to find an underlying problem.

Sometimes a patient isn’t being difficult just to be difficult. Certain medications and illnesses can cause irritability in patients. Ashley from Rasmussen College says “many patients are dealing with medical conditions, pain or side effects from medications that can alter their mood and make them more irritable. Sometimes you can alleviate a patient’s bad mood by determining the underlying cause of the problem.”2

Use positive language when communicating.

The last thing you want the patient to think is that they’re wrong or you’re challenging them. Negative language will only make the situation worse. Try using positive language when talking with a difficult patient.

Lynda from Ausmed Education suggests “you could say, ‘it seems you have a different viewpoint on this situation. Let me explain our position.’ This statement allows the patient to be heard and allows you to state your side of the argument. Another good positive response is, ‘might we suggest to you…’ or ‘an option open to you is…’ This allows the patient to know what their options are in a non-threatening manner.”3

Set boundaries for appropriate communication and behavior.

Sometimes difficult patients can get out of hand. You should not have to deal with someone spewing profanities at you, or someone making you feel threatened. It’s important to set boundaries to ensure your safety and sanity.

Morgan from Nurse.org suggests “say something like, ‘there are certain things that we allow here, and in order to talk to you, you cannot use that language. I will step out of the room for a while to give you time to calm down.’”4

It’s important to remember, especially if you’re a new nurse, that dealing with difficult patients is a skill that is acquired with time and practice. You will come across difficult patients, but the more experience you have, the better you will become at handling these types of situations. We suggest asking senior nurses around you for tips and tricks if you find yourself stuck in situations with difficult patients.

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


  1. http://www.nursetogether.com/professional-nursing-dealing-with-difficult-patients
  2. http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/nursing/blog/tips-for-new-nurses-dealing-with-difficult-patients/
  3. http://www.ausmed.com.au/blog/entry/how-to-handle-difficult-patients
  4. http://nurse.org/articles/95/dealing-with-difficult-patients/