5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Patients

October 12, 2021

Susie Woodford

Registered Nurse, RN to MSN Program


As a nursing professional, you come in contact with many different people from all walks of life, which can be very rewarding. Sometimes, though, you may find yourself with patients who are hard to work with. As healthcare practitioners, it’s our job to provide the best possible care to everyone who comes to us in need. Here are a few tips to help you deal with difficult patients.

Don’t take it personally or get defensive. It is easy to assume the patient is upset with you personally, but that is seldom the case. Remember, they most likely don’t feel well. Refrain from getting defensive, both through your tone of voice and body language. If you can, sit down with the patient, don’t cross your arms, and speak in a gentle voice. Keep your focus on your job but respond with concern and care.

Show that you care.  Genuine empathy goes a long way with all patients and can calm someone who is upset. Pause for a moment to look into their eyes, hand them a tissue if they are emotional, and truly listen to them. Show them that you really care and see them as a unique person with specific needs and concerns.

Listen to their concerns. Don’t jump to conclusions about what is going on with the patient. Allow them to tell their story to find out why they have become so upset. There may be an underlying cause to their distress, which may be a legitimate concern that you must address. Sometimes patients just need someone who will listen.

Don’t allow abuse. You should never accept abusive behavior from anyone, including a patient. In some cases, it may be necessary to step out of the room until the patient calms down. It is not in your job description to be victimized by an abuse patient, so do not hesitate to alert your supervisor of the situation. In addition, hospital security is also available to support you if you feel threatened in any way.

Get help for the patient. You may feel that some patients need more support for their emotions, anger, or other challenges. Social workers or hospital chaplains may be good resources to help the patient through their difficulties. Gently suggest to the patient that these options are available to them if needed.

In the nursing profession, we come across many people with different needs and complications. We may not always understand them, but what really matters is that they deserve our best care. Difficult patients are unavoidable but responding appropriately can help de-escalate a tense situation and cause less stress for everyone involved.

American College of Education’s fully online nursing programs will teach you the skills to provide excellent care and advance your career. Explore our full catalog of nursing programs.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Susie Woodford
Susie Woodford, Registered Nurse, RN to MSN Program

Read all articles
Share this:
  • X
  • LinkedIn
Close Chat