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Seven Tips for Handling Difficult Patients

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In a perfect world, we would all spend our days surrounded by happy patients who never are upset, never complain, and who are always compliant to requests. However, the reality is that nearly every single medical professional will need to deal with a difficult patient at some point, if not on a regular basis. So what are we to do when patients are rude, belligerent, or defiant? Here are some tips to help you handle any situation with grace.

Take a Step Back

When you feel a situation beginning to arise with a difficult patient, take a moment to stop and assess what is happening and come up with a couple of plan options before reacting, if it is safe to do so. It’s best to approach any problem with a thought out plan, rather than going with your instinct in the heat of the moment.

Remind Yourself That It Isn’t Personal

One of the easiest traps to fall into when dealing with a less than pleasant patient is thinking that their words or actions are a direct result of something you have done. In most cases, it’s either an emotional reaction to circumstances or even a symptom of a condition or side effect of treatment.

Empathize When You Can

Sometimes all people need is a little understanding when they’re upset or angry. Let them know that their feelings are important, that you can understand why they are upset, and simply offer them kindness. Though it may not work with everyone, it can go a long way with many.

Do a Little Background Work

Speak with others who have had this patient and spend a little time getting to know their history or reach out to the family to learn a bit more about them. Having the ammunition to bring a little friendly touch to your care of a challenging patient may be the thing that helps them to turn the corner.

Get the Job Done

Some people simply will never be happy or compliant, no matter what we do. When necessary, throw on your blinders and do the best job that you can. Even if they aren’t pleased, you still have done your best work and can take pride in that.

Don’t Simply Take Abuse

It can be best to just grin and bear it when it comes to dealing with some of the hardest patients, but allowing a patient to cross the line and be verbally abusive to you is setting a precedent that is good for no one. If a situation with a patient is beyond your control, speak with a supervisor for assistance.

Ask for Help

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel as if you are being abused or in danger. Whether you simply need an extra set of hands to make your time with the patient go by more quickly or if you need to involve security because you aren’t feeling safe, speak up and ask for what you need to make the best of a challenging situation.


Though there are some tough aspects to working in healthcare, there are a ton of benefits, including knowing that you’re directly affecting patient care. Looking for your next adventure in healthcare? Check out our latest opportunities here.

Contributor Ron Washburn

Ron is currently the executive vice president of Soliant and has been with the company for more than 28 years now. He oversees our nursing and allied health division and has been with Soliant since its small beginnings in the early 90s. He’s an integral part of our organization, and not only hosts trainings for our groups but manages company events and continues to run a desk of clients and candidates. He is experienced in contract placement, recruiting, permanent placement and internet recruiting within the healthcare industry. Ron possesses a Master's degree focused on Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship from Georgia State University. Don’t forget to check out the rest of his blogs!