There are all sorts of factors that contribute to making a person cranky. Maybe they’ve had a bad day. Maybe they have low blood sugar. Maybe they’re scared. Or maybe that’s just their personality. As a nurse, you’ll run into difficult patients from time to time—just like any other job with human interaction.
And it makes sense. Your patients don’t want to be in a hospital—they’re already feeling inconvenienced, their injury or illness is a major factor, and most of them are probably scared. For many such patients, politeness is probably far from the top of their priority list.
Is that an excuse for rudeness? Of course not. But they’re still your patient, and just because they aren’t at their best doesn’t mean you can’t be yours.
Check Yourself – Your patient may not even be that difficult. It might be you. Before assigning any blame to your patient, make sure that you have yourself under control. If you’re feeling stressed, or dealing with something tough at home, or just missed breakfast that day, you may be projecting some of your issues onto your patient. Make sure you’ve taken care of yourself first so that all your patient interactions begin from a calm, balanced place.
Remain Calm – Patients may snap or snark, but rarely are they actually upset with you. It’s tough but do your best not to take their reactions personally and try your best to understand where they’re coming from. Take pauses, take breaths, and focus on doing what you can to help.
Listen and Repeat – One of the biggest triggers for a scared patient is the fear that he or she isn’t being heard, so make sure to listen closely, especially for the patients who seem irate. And let them know that you’ve heard them by repeating back the information they’ve shared. Sometimes, just knowing that someone has listened is enough to not only calm a patient, but it may just win them over to your side for good.
Avoid Subtle Pushback – It’s hard not to get defensive when someone is being unreasonable or obtuse, but pushing back typically just reinforces their behavior. Watch your body language for subtle signs of hostility (avoiding eye contact, crossing arms, etc.). And watch your language as well for anything that might be taken as confrontational.
Set Boundaries – Of course, there are lines that difficult patients simply can’t be allowed to cross, and you should have those set before you enter the room. If your patient begins shouting or using profanity, for example, have a plan in place to shut down the interaction until they regain control.
Executive medical director Kathleen Bonvicini suggests (during an interview with Nurse.org) that nurses be prepared to say something like “There are certain things that we allow here, and in order to continue to talk to you, you cannot use that language. I will step out of the room for a while to give you time to calm down.”
Show Empathy – More often than not, your patient just wants to know they aren’t alone in their struggles. You may not be dealing with the same challenges as your patient, but take the time to understand the person behind the diagnosis. What must they be feeling, what are their biggest fears, what type of pain must they be experiencing? A little empathy can go a long, long way.
Get Help – Your hospital is full of people who can help you with any type of patient, so if you’re at a loss, call for help! You can choose from hospital social workers, chaplains, counselors, or even other nurses who may have more experience with the challenges your patient is facing. Never feel like you have to shoulder any burden alone. One of the greatest benefits of working as a nurse is joining the healthcare family… it’s a fantastic support network, so use it!
But most important, remember that every patient deserves your best. It’s tempting to want to spend all your time with the sweet, appreciative patients who do nothing but smile and compliment, but even the cranky ones deserve your attention and talents.
And sometimes, it’s the of crankiest patients who wind up being the most grateful in the end. These are often the chances to make the biggest difference, and many times will be the moments you look back on as the most meaningful.
If you are interested in beginning your own career as a nurse or medical assistant, Provo College can help make that dream a reality. Contact us today for more information.