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 How to Cope with Tricky Patients and Bad Attitudes

Maybe a car crashed, or perhaps someone was walking when they got hit by a bus. He might have accidentally swallowed a bone, or she may have come down with a mysterious illness.

Either way, the person is in your hospital, they’ve been assigned as your patient, and they need your help, so you come to the rescue.


That’s why it can be rather frustrating when a hard working nurse ends up on the receiving end of verbal and emotional abuse, or even physical assault at the hand of patients.


It isn’t uncommon to hear about patients getting coworkers and superiors involved to try and make nurses look bad because they didn’t do what they wanted, how they wanted it, when they wanted it.


Regardless of how or why a patient mistreats a nurse, it can down right be hurtful.


Afterall, superheroes have feelings too--but we also have jobs to do, so here is how you cope.


The first thing you must do is learn not to take any of your patients’ antics to heart. It could be pain, depression, boredom, or true manipulation at play, it doesn’t make a difference. Just focus on identifying what the patient is doing, and responding adequately.

Here are a couple different scenarios a patient might fuss about and some guidance as to how to deal with it.


The Impatient Patient

If you have an impatient, pushy resident, it’s okay to let  them know politely, but firmly that you are taking care of them but request that they be respectful. Inform them that you will address their needs (or non-needs) as soon as possible, but you also have to split your time in between however many other patients you’re assigned to, so they will “get their juice” once other patients are handled.


Firmly set your boundaries and speak to patients as people. If they still are acting up, stick to the guidelines you have set  and don’t be apologetic.

Conflicts with Patients Frequently Demanding Medication

Some patients who stay on top of you about medication aren’t necessarily doing so because they are in unbearable pain or discomfort. As you know, there are millions of addicts struggling with drug abuse and they will say anything or do anything, including acting rude and manipulative to get what they want. Don’t focus on the patients themselves, brush up on what typical “addict” behavior is; this will help you to put the experience in perspective and alleviate feelings of being under a personal attack.

Next, use the proper communication and language to let them know ahead of time what to expect. It makes it easier to care for patients who are demanding medication.  For example, when patients have a habit of pressing the call light for you before their next round of medication is due, you may be able to nip it in the bud by doing the following:

Writing their appointed medication time on a board or a place that they can see.

Tell them that managing their pain is a top priority for you and at 8 a.m. (or whenever is appropriate) you will provide them with their medication. Then tell them if you haven’t come by that time, give you a call.

Getting Ahead of Patients Badmouthing You To Peers

Another common tactic a patient might pull is pitting other staff members against a nurse they dislike. For instance, they may complain about how you administered treatment and ask to be assigned to another nurse. Before things get that far, let other nurses in your hall be aware of the patient’s behavior and their plan of care. Also make it a point to document EVERYTHING, from their pain rating and general appearance to their comments and actions. This way, leaders can make informed decisions and everyone can remain a united front.


Any other tips on how to handle difficult patients? Please leave them in the comments below.


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