Keeping Cool: 5 Ways Nurses Deal with Tough Patients

Doctors and Nurses in Surgery

Every nurse will tell you that relationship management is as important to the job, if not more so, as the vast medical knowledge that every career nurse has in their arsenal. Nurses face all types of challenges in dealing with patients both in and out of a hospital environment. Whether you are a career nurse or a new LVN or RN, we assembled some advice and tips from many of our favorite nursing veterans to help all professionals deal with some of the toughest situations.

Focus on Care

If the patient is struggling, arguing, or however an individual is inhibiting your task: execute care. When all else fails: remind the patient that you are there to take vitals, to administer medication, or whatever your primary role is. At least if you leave the interaction ruffled, you’ll know you’ve done your job.

Set Boundaries

We’ve said this in other posts, but it bears repeating: yes, you can set boundaries. Patients are not, in any way, allowed to be abusive, insulting, or cruel. If you run into such a situation, consult an advisor immediately and ask for help, especially if a patient is threatening your safety.

Show Your Empathy

When watch an experienced nurse, you will see what empathy in action looks like. Listening is an excellent way to remind the patient that you are there for them. The words, “I’m so sorry to hear that,” go a long, long way. Make eye contact as the patient is speaking and hear them out; doctors rarely have the time to make this kind of commitment to listening and hearing their patients out as they do rounds. It’s the actual care part of the healthcare process that almost exclusively falls on the shoulders of nurses.

Stay Focused

Nursing is easily one of the most detail-oriented careers on earth. You will discover that staying one step ahead can sometimes alleviate problems before they start. If, for example, you notice that a patient is becoming agitated, you can take steps to solve that before it turns into a crisis. Are there unpleasant side effects of a medication? Does a patient’s mood shift when specific visitors come or go from the room? Staying on top of the smallest changes during your shift could mean the difference between a minor confrontation or a peaceful interaction.

Three Words: Practice Self Care

No one will know or understand your current stress levels better than you. (We put this primer together to help nurses survive long shifts, for example.) What is stressful to one of your colleagues may not phase you at all, while something that completely knocks you for a loop may not register to another nurse. You have to take responsibility for your own stress levels, and take breaks, even if it’s a five-minute breather or a vent session with a friend after a rough moment. If you’re having a bad day, either for professional or personal reasons, make sure you build moments into your day where you can comfort yourself in some way. Stay hydrated, keep healthy snacks at work, join a gym close by, and as much as you can, get plenty of sleep.

Nursing is tough. There’s no question about that. For those who are up for the challenge, it’s also a rewarding and dynamic career path that gives as much back to you as you put into it. If you’re ready for the challenge: contact us today about our accelerated program so you’ll be out in the nursing world in just over a year.


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