Dealing with Difficult Patients

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Life in scrubs can be one of the most rewarding career paths out there, but it can also be one of the hardest.  The work can be demanding, the schedule can be demanding, and the patients can be demanding.  Although many of us get into the field because we want to help people, it’s ok to admit that patients can be our most and LEAST favorite part of the job.  We’ve put together a few tips to keep in mind when working with difficult patients.

Be aware of your own emotional state.  As much as we’d like to think we leave our personal lives at the front door, the truth is we are affected by our experiences.  Pain or trauma in our past can be triggered by lots of things including our patients, and that’s perfectly reasonable.  However, it’s important to acknowledge to yourself when something has touched a nerve.  You want to make sure that you are dealing with the present situation and not a ghost from your past.  Sometimes a minute to catch your breath is all you need, but if you find yourself having a hard time consider taking advantages of the mental health resources available to you.

Put yourself in their shoes… or compression stockings.  The medical profession may be second nature to you, but it can be pretty stressful for most patients.  They may have been through something traumatic that landed them in your care, or they may be facing something really scary, or just scared of needles.  Often we feel one emotion but react with another.  It’s easier to be angry than it is to be scared.  Acknowledge the patient’s feelings and try offering them a little extra understanding.

Set good boundaries.  Understanding where a patient is coming from doesn’t mean you allow them to treat you disrespectfully.  Set clear boundaries from the beginning.  Be firm but respectful if those boundaries are violated.  Focus on modeling the respect you expect in return.  “I understand your frustration.  I can’t get you any more pain medication, but I can get a _______________.  Or would you like for me to just sit here with you for a little bit.”

Call for back up.  If your boundaries continue to be violated ask for help!  Life in scrubs is a team sport, and there is always someone there who can help you.  It may just be a personality mismatch and a co-worker can work miracles with this specific patient.  If that won’t work then don’t hesitate to get your supervisor involved.

Find your Zen.  Sometimes no matter how much you’ve try to understand yourself and your patient, you’ve set good boundaries and you’ve asked for help, caring for others can just be down right challenging.  This is when it’s time to refocus on good self-care.  Here’s a great article from Scrubs Magazine about stress relief.  (


Now it’s your turn.  What tricks have you found helpful when it comes to dealing with difficult patients.  Leave us a comment here, post to our Facebook wall, or tag us on Twitter (@tafford) or Instagram (@tafforduniforms)!

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