How to handle difficult patients

Nursing is one of the most rewarding career paths but at the same time it is probably one of the most challenging and demanding. Not all patients are polite, happy people and sometimes they can truly test a nurse’s patience and communication skills. Very often verbal and physical abuse from patients is unfortunately a reality. Patients can be rude, aggressive or, at times, dangerous, and working with them can be frustrating and tiring. Knowing how to prevent and handle these situations is something all nurses need to know.
So how do you handle them? We need to understand the reasons for abusive or difficult behaviour first.

  • It’s very important to note that patients under the influence of drugs, alcohol or those experiencing psychiatric trauma can be unpredictable and can verbally and physically abuse those trying to help them.
  • The shortage of staff, crowded waiting rooms, and long waiting times can cause a lot of frustration and people’s patience can wear quite thin. Many nurses experience emotional and verbal abuse due to individual’s feelings as if their needs are not being met, or they aren’t being looked after once they enter the hospital.
  • It is quite common that patients feel anxious, insecure and afraid when admitted into the hospital. This result may surface in the form of verbal or physical abuse.

How to handle an abusive behaviour

1) Don’t take anything personally
No matter how personal the attacks may feel don’t take them personally. It’s probably easy to assume that patient’s actions are aimed at you but they’re more than likely caused by enormous stress, and being unable to handle the situation.

2) Remain professional and respectful
Under no circumstances respond to anger with violent or abusive behaviour. There will be many instances in which you will feel tempted to do so but you need to keep calm and remind yourself that your patient is in a vulnerable state. Maintain a calm tone of your voice and if at any point you feel like you’re about to lose control, leave the room, take a deep breath and remember that you’re there to take care of your patients and that they probably dislike the situation they are in more than you.

3) Show them that you care
If possible, give your patients a chance to talk about their fears, anger or frustrations. Try to allow them to tell you why they are acting as they are. Use calm and compassion to assess the reasons for their anger and try to help them overcome their anxieties.

4) Try to connect with them
Very often little things like sitting down with the patient and making them feel listened to can make a big difference and go a long way. When possible, take the time to know your patient. Talk to their family and try to learn as much as you can about their interests, hobbies etc. It’s all about letting them know that their opinions matter, and that you are doing everything in your powers to not only meet their needs but also care about them.

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