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Clinical Systems Leadership

How to handle difficult patients

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As a nurse, you’ll encounter people from all walks of life. Some of these individuals will lift you up and inspire you more than you anticipated. However, not every day will be so enlightening and enjoyable. You’ll probably encounter a few individuals who shout at you, refuse to take medications or break hospital protocol.

Walk in the patient’s shoes 

Handing difficult patients isn’t always easy, but it’s manageable. Taking a psychology course can prepare you for the complexities of human emotion, and you’ll quickly learn that many people express anger or sadness because they’re afraid or in pain. Compassion doesn’t excuse poor behavior, but it’s key in getting through a sticky situation.

If someone insults you or makes inappropriate comments, don’t take it personally. Patients receive difficult news, some of which will be life-changing, from doctors. An individual is likely reacting adversely to his or her personal issues rather than trying to hurt your feelings. Medical conditions like mental illnesses may also be causing a patient to act out in ways that are offensive.

With these various viewpoints in mind, do your best not to pass judgment on the individual. He or she may be dealing with more problems than meet the eye. However, do put up a boundary if someone uses harsh language or threatens your well-being. Gently tell the person that he or she can’t use foul language while under the care of hospital staff. State simple facts instead of pointing a finger to avoid exacerbating a bad interaction.

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Use your heart and your head

View confrontations with patients as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and other people. A difficult patient gives you a chance to re-evaluate and improve your communication skills. Someone may become defensive or dissatisfied with certain news. In these cases, you should try your best to put yourself in the individual’s shoes. Would you appreciate the answer, and is there a clearer way to explain things?

Not everyone you come across in your line of work has had the luxury of a good education. Some people may not have relatives to rely on, and others will have tight budgets to pay for care. Each of these scenarios is stressful and should propel you to take pride in your work, knowing that you can be the person to teach others about their health.

Once you start viewing these responsibilities as a privilege rather than daunting work tasks, you might find helping others to be more rewarding than challenging.

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